Discover Odette, the restaurant voted No.1 in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019.
When he left Jaan in 2015 to open his debut solo restaurant, Julien Royer was widely expected to go on to great success. But what no one quite predicted was the speed with which Odette in Singapore would become the region’s favourite restaurant. Entering the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list as the highest ever new entry at No.9 in 2017, Odette rose to No.5 in 2018, and this year has been crowned the Best Restaurant in Asia, tipping four-time winner Gaggan from the top spot.
We talk to French chef Royer about his cooking philosophy, inspiration for his dishes and plans for a casual, hands-only restaurant inspired by Southeast Asian flavours.
Read the interview then go inside Odette with our video tour.
The cuisine at Odette is French in its DNA because this is the way I was trained and learned how to cook. But it’s a cuisine that is widely open to the place where we are, which is a crossroads of Southeast Asia with many different influences, nationalities and religions.
We’re really trying to cook with our soul, with our heart. I want people to feel a lot of love in what we cook because this is the story of Odette. This is the story of the restaurant. This is my story.
The restaurant is named after my grandmother. She is the person who showed me how much pleasure, how much joy, how much happiness and emotion you can give to people through food and cuisine.
Singapore is a bit of a paradox because there is not much space for growing stuff and 90% of the produce is imported from elsewhere. It was a problem at first, but I took it as an opportunity, as a challenge. Singapore is a very well organised country where you can bring anything from anywhere. We have access to top quality ingredients worldwide that come to our doorstep on a daily basis. This is something that also shaped the cuisine that we are doing here.
I come from a very humble background and grew up in a very quiet part of France called Auvergne. We were lucky that 90% of what we consumed came from our own land, and that was something very special.
What I really like about cooking is the fact that we can see, smell and taste something new every day. It’s a never-ending process.
Odette's Kegani crab dish
My grandmother taught me about seasonality. Unlike here in Singapore where the weather is constant, where I grew up, we had four distinctive seasons so we cooked with whatever was in season. I really learned how to taste products that were in season. Taste education, as a kid, shapes the way you eat and the way you are in your future life.
When I first came to Singapore as a young chef, I was doing French cuisine and using only French products. I quickly realised how stupid that was – it was nonsense when I think about it now.
She also taught me that sometimes happiness and great cooking can come from very humble and simple ingredients. It’s not about only lobster, caviar and high-grade wagyu beef. You can do something delicious with a celeriac, a piece of beetroot and a sardine.
I try to eat out as much as I can. What’s beautiful about Singapore is the diversity of cuisine here, it’s quite unique, and that makes it one of the top cities in the world for dining.
When I first came to this location, it was an empty space. What I liked about it was this beautiful natural light that comes into the dining room that brings a sense of lightness, a sense of a very warm and engaging dining room.
My grandmother was very good at making tarts. She made beautiful apple tarts and prune tarts, and she would make jam in spring and summer. I remember the smell of redcurrant and blackcurrant jam in our house – we used to pick the fruit ourselves. That’s one of the reasons why we give our guests a little jam from our own recipe at the end of the meal.
Odette's yuzu sake shiso tart
One very important part of the job as a cook is to know exactly where your products are from. We should do more to highlight and recognise our suppliers. Without those beautiful ingredients and produce, we can’t do anything.
I realised that I had started to become a mature chef when I started to remove things from plates rather than adding and adding and adding. When you’re a young chef, you want to impress and you want to send out dishes that just look beautiful. You try to put a lot of things in the same dish, which I now tend to remove.
The key ingredients of Odette are the people who work here – the team. My three sous chefs have worked for me for many years and one of them has been with me since I arrived in Singapore 10 years ago. Our general manager, Steven Mason, has created an amazing team of passionate people who work together hand in hand to create a very genuine sense of hospitality.
Good food is not enough. You need to have a personal approach. You need to make people feel like they’re at home and really treat everyone individually, differently, in order to transform moments into memories.
We worked with local artists called Dawn Ng and a London-based design company called Universal Design Studio to create an atmosphere and a dining room that was quite the opposite of the fine dining trend, which uses a lot of dark colours and greys.
An elegant booth in Odette's dining room
I won’t describe food as art and I won’t describe a chef as an artist. An artist is someone who has reached the epitome of his career, and I truly think as a cook we can learn, smell and see new things every day, and for that reason we are more artisan than artist.
One day I would like to open a place – not a restaurant – where you can eat small bites using only your hands. I’d work with Southeast Asian flavours.
I have a huge amount of respect for Dominique Crenn. I love her approach to food, which is very personal and poetic, and she has a very beautiful story to tell.
As chefs, we have a role to play in the wellbeing of our people in the kitchen. There was a lot of abuse until recently and it’s time for us, the new generation of chefs, to give people a proper place to work, with a proper work ethic.
When I’m hiring, I don’t look for skills, I look for the proper mind set. You can be the best chef in the world but if you are not able to communicate and to work as a team, you can’t achieve anything. So what I look for are people who are positive, open minded, open hearted and willing to meld within a team or a place.
Here in Singapore, I have a lot of respect Cheryl Koh, who won the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef Award a few years ago. She’s the pastry chef at Les Amis and she has her own tart shop, Tarte by Cheryl Koh. She’s doing an amazing job in pastry and tart making, which is really beautiful, classic and always perfect.
I want the team to develop and push themselves and put themselves into the dish. I was given the chance to open this restaurant and I’d like to share the chance with the team and allow them to grow in their careers.
The biggest award for any chef or restaurateur or restaurant is to have a full dining room of happy guests. It’s truly why we do this job, to make people happy, to make people come back.
Go inside Odette with Julien Royer in our brand new video:
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