People 3 minutes 09 March 2020

The First Day We Got Our Stars: Julien Royer

The chef who grew up in France playing with Bibendum toys shares what it was like to receive his first MICHELIN stars for Odette in Singapore and what it means to achieve the top accolade of three.

First Day Singapore Chef Interview

The MICHELIN Guide's star ratings mean the world for any chef but for those from France where it’s part of the national fabric, that reverence runs deep. So deep in fact that chef-owner Julien Royer of Odette grew up playing with Bibendum toys and played games with his colleagues to name every MICHELIN-starred restaurant in France as he entered the industry.

Fast forward a couple of decades later when Royer's restaurant entered Singapore's very first edition of the MICHELIN Guide in 2016 with not one, but two stars. The accolade meant so much to him that he teared up while breaking the news to his family over the phone. 

In 2019, Odette reached new heights when it joined a select group of about 130 restaurants around the world lauded with the three MICHELIN stars distinction. For Royer, the excitement of receiving three MICHELIN stars was palpable — he gave a tight bear hug to the Bibendum mascot when he went onstage.

Here, he shares what it was like when Odette first received its MICHELIN stars and what the coveted three-MICHELIN-star recognition means to him.

Odette's entrance
Odette's entrance

My first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide was... something I don't even remember, to be honest. It’s simply legendary and has always been in my life. It has been in existence since 1900 and is considered a part of French national culture. Almost every household owns a copy of the guidebook back in France. My hometown is very close to Clermont-Ferrand where the Michelin headquarters are. I grew up with Bibendum toys and have been using Michelin maps and e-maps even before Google Maps.

When I became a professional chef, I used to play this game with my colleagues and could name almost every one-, two- and three-starred restaurant in the MICHELIN Guide to France by heart - and the French edition is a very thick book!

The day my restaurant received two stars, I was working with the team in the kitchen and it was a very busy day. I returned to my phone much later to realise that I had missed two calls from a private number. I had also received numerous texts from friends who had heard that representatives from Michelin were calling nominated restaurants to inform them of the results.

While preparing to leave for the MICHELIN Guide Singapore gala dinner at 5.30pm, I received another call from the representative, but I was so stunned I was not sure if I had heard him or her correctly. My wife happened to come home at this time and as she's very aware of the process too, she asked me if I had received the call. It was the first time since that call that I voiced out the result...and I told her that I thought it was two but I was not sure. That's how stunned and I was. I couldn't believe it!

When we finally arrived at the gala and found out that we were really being awarded two stars, we were overjoyed. I called my family in Cantal immediately after to share the good news. We were all in tears on both ends of the line. They were ecstatic.

The first thing I did after receiving the stars was head to the official party at Tanjong Beach Club to celebrate with other chefs in Singapore. Once we got back to the restaurant, we gathered the team and celebrated with champagne.

I can't stress more that it's the restaurant that is awarded and not me. So this recognition was earned through teamwork. I'm incredibly lucky to have the best team. The team has grown tremendously over the past year and I am wowed daily by their heartfelt dedication, passion, skills and professionalism. I am so proud of them.

How different was the experience getting three stars for Odette in 2019?
It is a dream come through, an incredible honour and amazing recognition for the team and I, who did not dream much about getting a MICHELIN star when we opened Odette four years ago. The three MICHELIN stars recognition is like the grand cru of the culinary world. It is like winning the gold medal in the Olympics Games.

Why do you think Odette has been able to make the leap to three stars?
As I become more mature as a chef, I tend to remove more things from the plate and focus on the produce, sourcing, seasoning and sauces, which are very important to French cuisine. My cuisine has become more simplified and focused on taste, taste and taste. The DNA of my cooking is French, but it has slowly been infused with Asian influences, in terms of produce, techniques and aesthetics. I feel much more confident now than a few years ago in the cooking that we do.

Odette's Lemon Tart
Odette's Lemon Tart

How much influence has the MICHELIN Guide had on your career?
I have trained in several Michelin-starred restaurants in the early years of my career, so I would say the hard work, dedication, perseverance, attention to detail and commitment needed to obtain a Michelin star has definitely inspired and influenced the way I work and cook today.

The first piece of advice I would give to young chefs aiming for stars is, well, not to aim for MICHELIN stars. MICHELIN stars should not be regarded as the goal in itself, but rather the bonus on top of achieving your goals.

Aim to achieve and deliver top quality products, develop a mastery of flavour, hone your cooking techniques and build your own culinary personality. Aim to be able to share and teach and always remember the importance of team work. Above all, work on delivering this consistently. If a young chef focuses on these points, it will pay off on the plate, guests will be satisfied and peers and institutions will recognise this too.

The people you meet along the way are vital to your growth. Never stop learning from your peers, partners, suppliers, collaborators and fellow creators. It is important to continuously broaden your worldviews and expose yourself to differing perspectives. Creating a dining experience is also a collective effort. Recognise, value and respect everyone who comes your way for their individual contributions and qualities.

Most importantly, love what you do and believe in your work.

RELATED: Chefs From Three-MICHELIN-Starred Restaurants In Singapore React On The Crowning Moment

This article was first published in August 2016 and updated by Rachel Tan in February 2020.


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