Xavier Boyer, executive head chef, London L’Atelier

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th December 2014
Xavier Boyer is executive head chef at London L’Atelier and has been working with Joël Robuchon for 14 years. He has led the kitchens at both the New York and Taipei’s L’Ateliers. Born in the south of France, Xavier has had a passion for food from a young age. He studied culinary and pastry arts at Paris' L'Ecole Superieur de la Cuisine Francaise and then graduated from Lycée Saint-Joseph du Parchamps in Boulogne. His current role is a return for Xavier to the London L’Atelier as he was involved in the launch of the restaurant in 2006. Some have said he has returned as Joël Robuchon’s secret weapon, in an attempt to regain the Michelin star which was lost last year. But Xavier insists happy customers are his focus. The Staff Canteen spoke to him about his cooking style, working with a culinary legend and why he chose to become part of the Slow Food Movement. GyozaTalk me through your previous career and how you started in the industry One day I went to see a TV show by Joel Robuchon where I tasted his food and I loved it. He really inspired me and so then I decided that, to see if I really wanted to become a chef I would do a stage. So I did and I loved it, and one year later I started in culinary school. Were you interested in food before that point? Yes always, my mum had a restaurant a long time ago in the Caribbean. It was a very simple restaurant but it gave me a good insight into what was involved. Although I loved her style of cooking, my dishes today are not influenced by her. Where did you go after catering college? After I completed catering college I went straight to work with Joel Robuchon. This was when I was 16 and I am now 34, and out of this time I have worked with him for fourteen years. LAtelier_Recce_085_IMG_1545_touchfood2014How did you start with him? I started with an apprenticeship. I spent two years with him in his restaurant, and then after that I decided to train in pastry for one year in order to learn the basics. After this year away I then returned to Joel, before leaving again to spend some time in Italy. I then returned to him again for a bit, before trying different cuisines at the three starred Four Seasons restaurant in Paris, Le Cinq. Joel then asked me to do the opening of L’Atelier in London in 2008. After that, he asked me to move to New York; I did three years over there before moving on to Taiwan and then returning back to London. What keeps drawing you back to Joel? In my eighteen year career, I have spent fourteen years with him. I moved around a bit only to explore other places and to see other things, but I kept returning to him. Why would you want to leave the best? What’s it like to work with him? He is incredible to work with. There are solid guidelines: respect for the product, respect for the people, respect for the quality – it’s the whole package. Everything is the best it can be, and that’s what I love and it’s now very difficult now for me to ever step outside of this.Latelier_2014_IMG_7379_touchfood2014 Has he influenced your style of cooking? Of course. First of all it’s his cuisine. But I am given the liberty of doing the things that I want within this, as long as I remain loyal to his style. If you’re a football player who has played for a long time with one coach, when you go somewhere else, you still have the approach of playing how you first learnt. It’s the same with cooking, of course I have my own identity, but it has been strongly influenced by Joel, especially given all the years I have worked with him. You said you’ve been to New York, Taiwan and Italy – how do they differ to London? The customers, the products, the ambience – everything is different. What’s nice about travelling is that you can put different ingredients in your cuisine and you get to learn many different things. London is now a platform for many, many cuisines; it’s starting to be the same as New York, because it’s very cosmopolitan, and all of the big names are here. London is the place to be.
Top five restaurant meals? Le Balzac, Pierre Ganier Per Se, Thomas Keller El Bulli RESTAURANT LE CHATEAUBRIAND PARIS Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong Most influential chefs in your career? Joel Robuchon Eric Bouchenoire Eric Lecerf Phillipe LeGandre Aurelie Altermaire Top 5 comfort foods? Alignot – melting cheese with mash Blanque de Veau – veal stew in white sauce Coscos (the work) – with all the spices, herbs, spicy lamb sausage Charcuterie & cheese platter xiao long bao
You were part of the launch for the London L’Atelier, what brought you back? First of all I really love London, so it’s nice to be back with fresh ideas and a different approach that I’ve gained through my travels. I love to travel, but London is a place I really, really like. Are you working on getting back the star that the restaurant lost last year? Of course we are, but losing the star for a restaurant does not mean we did something wrong. Sometimes it can be a wake-up call, but we are not doing our job in order to gain stars, we are doing it because we are passionate and we want to make our customers happy. If we can get a star then that’s a plus, yes, but it’s not the first goal. The most important aim is to really please our customers and, if they come back, this is the most important thing and it proves that we have done a good job. So what are your plans for L’Atelier? What are you looking to do in the future? Right now we are just passionate about continuing to make great food, to keep looking for new and different ingredients and to continue to keep bettering what we do. What would you say your cooking style is? Because of my travelling, it’s very international. I was born in the South of France, so my approach is more about that, but I still have an Asian influence amongst many others. Do you have a favourite dish on the menu, or what best shows your cooking style? Yes, there’s a gyoza which I think really reflects my cooking style. Gyoza is a crispy ravioli that you cook on the stove. It’s Asian, but it starts with veal shank that’s cooked in a style from the South of France, with a lot of tomatoes and other ingredients. What’s the rest of the menu like? How would you describe it to people? It’s French, but Asian-influenced. We’re a big brand that’s all over the world, and that’s a good thing because we can collate ideas from everywhere. Also we talk all the time with the other chefs, like, “oh, you have something new”, so it’s a big and ongoing exchange. We always have a French basis with French technique, but we’re open to everything, because it’s a world market - even if you don’t travel, if you go to London and go from one street to the other, you’ve changed countries straightaway. You mentioned the other chefs, but what influence does Joel himself have on the business?photo2 - pls credit Pavlova & Cream, www.pavlovaandcream.com We have signature dishes that we never change – a few, not a lot. At the end of the day, it’s his restaurant, not mine – around 70% is his, and around 30% is mine to do whatever I want. But I’ve been with him for fourteen years and so I think along the same lines as him. I would never do something he wouldn’t agree with. You’re also part of the Slow Food UK movement; what made you want to join that? The Slow Food movement is a great cause. It’s very nice because we can help raise awareness of small farmers by working with them. For me it’s a real privilege to work with these farmers as we can find different products that have been produced by people who work with their heart. They give us very special products and we help them as well. Without them, we can’t exist and we really to show them that we appreciate that. The movement looks at ‘forgotten’ foods, are there are any ‘forgotten’ foods that you would like to see come back? I like the roots. In winter you have a lot of root vegetables like panais [English: parsnip]. In difficult situations like the war, people were only eating the roots, but after the war, when people started to waste more food, they forgot about them. So I love those, and it’s always nice to take something that people don’t use a lot and then create something very special with it. Latelier_IMG_1506_touchfood2014Do you have a dish that uses roots? Yes, we do lobster with root vegetables underneath, a chestnut emulsion and a little bit of cardamom on top. Would you encourage all chefs to be part of the Slow Food movement? It’s a nice thing. We give, we receive – it’s a win-win situation, and it’s nice for those small farmers to have exposure and to be able to showcase their products and their love for them. What do you think of the standard of food in the UK at the moment? I think it’s growing every day. Competition is very intense, so everybody wants to be better every day. As I said, all the big names are here and all the awards have their eyes on London. Also London is so cosmopolitan; everybody is travelling and coming into London, there’s a big business and the culinary scene is very good compared to other places in Europe. People want to eat well and healthily. London is becoming the culinary platform for Europe.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th December 2014

Xavier Boyer, executive head chef, London L’Atelier