When Julien Royer took over JAAN, the sky-high restaurant on the 70th story of Singapore’s Swissotel The Stamford, expectations were equally lofty. The intimate, upscale French restaurant had already gained widespread acclaim under Taiwanese chef Andre Cheng, who left to open his own celebrated Restaurant Andre in Singapore in 2010.
Royer brought an impressive resume, having worked under Michelin- starred chefs Michel Bras and Bernard Andrieux, as well as the renowned Jean Georges Vongerichten. But he was young; he’s only 32 now. Still, his craft has been forged over generations. He comes from a long line of farmers inFrance’s Cantal, and learned cooking the old-fashioned way, from his mother and grandmother.
As chef de cuisine at JAAN, he offers an exquisite mix of authentic French fare with ample frills at Singapore’s top-of-the-world table. He was named Rising Chef Of The Year at the World Gourmet Summit’s Awards of Excellence 2012, and was “One to Watch” at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013. JAAN ranked 17th at Asia’s 50 Best in 2014 and also made the World’s Best Restaurant list 2014, both from S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.
Hotelier International: How would you describe JAAN and your approach to cooking?
Julien Royer: JAAN is an intimate 40- seat modern French restaurant, where we focus on cooking simple and elegant dishes, using the best ingredients from around the globe, and where we take pride on sourcing from small-scale and artisan producers. The cooking style has evolved slightly since I joined, from something extremely clean and pristine in terms of flavors, to a little more straight-forward and product driven. As a young chef, JAAN has helped me to experiment, define and sharpen my style.
HI: You followed others at JAAN, like celebrated chef Andre Chiang. What was it like to take over, while still in your 20s?
JR: The challenge as a young chef is to deliver in ‘your own’ style and please every single guest on a daily basis. Plus building a team that compliments your ideas and philosophy. My right hand and sous chef in command Kirk Westaway has been here over three years, also my Junior sous chef Levin Lau. They are the core of my team. It took us a few months of very hard work and dedication to get the place buzzing again. Today we have reached a level of business and have a number of regular and very loyal guests like never before.
HI: You are part of the Artisanal Cuisine Movement. Explain how it relates to JAAN?
JR: It’s not really a cooking trend or ‘movement’, but more a global way to think about our job, starting from the farming and sourcing, to the preparation/ cooking, till the dish is actually served in front of the guest. We give priority to good production, using organic eggs, line-caught and wild fish, for example, organic fruits and vegetables from precise sources, premium oils or vinegars, selected spices and herbs. We love to work with passionate people who, like us, put a lot of pride and dedication into their products. We love to showcase their products in our menus and to be able to explain this to our guests.
HI: What issues do you have sourcing ingredients?
JR: We have an excellent sourcing process, so we don’t have many challenges to be honest. Even though Singapore is a small place with little produce, we still have access to many amazing and beautiful products from around the world.
HI: What about other challenges, like adapting to local tastes and expectations?
JR: The biggest challenge is really to be able to grow as a team and to maintain consistency and top quality on daily basis. As a chef, of course, we must adapt the way we cook to the place where we are. I wouldn’t try to open a laksa (signature Singapore-Malay curry) shop in my hometown in Auvergne!
HI: You have won many awards, such as Rising Chef and One to Watch. What is the value of these awards,
and what challenges do they add?
JR: All those awards are of course a great recognition of our very hard work, but they are especially for my team, who work really hard on daily basis to deliver the best we possibly can. I always say the best award for any restaurant is to be full every single day. So far, in that regard, we are very fortunate.