He is best known as the chef-owner of fine-dining French restaurant Le Saint Julien. But it was only after closing the curtain on that decade-old child in January 2013 that Julien Bompard could afford time to pursue his passions – both professional and personal. When he used to be in the kitchen almost all the time, the 46-year-old can also be found these days engaging in motor racing in Sepang, Malaysia, some three times a year, or karting at the KF1 circuit in Kranji at least once a month.
He also plays with the seven cats at home, co-adopted with his wife, Edith Lai. A feline-lover, she is an active member of the Cat Welfare Society, and has funded a boarding cattery, Kittycare Haven, as well as a sterilisation programme on St John’s Island and Pulau Ubin.
Apart from being his life partner, Lai, who is 45, doubles as his other half at work. They are both management consultants at private dining restaurant Scotts 27, and co-owners of Cuisine Service, a food factory that has a menu of more than 150 pre-cooked items that supplies to hotels, restaurants and events in Singapore.
“It was an emotional experience closing Le Saint Julien and, after doing so, we were totally lost at first,” admits Bompard. “We were used to working till 1am and, suddenly, had nothing to do by 10pm.” Three years on, he and his wife have reinvented themselves, adapting to a lifestyle that is no less busy but a lot more varied.
8AM: BREAKFAST WITH WIFE AND LETTING OUT THE CATS
Before he sits down to breakfast, Bompard has a “very important responsibility”: letting the cats out for their stroll. He opens the sliding door that leads out to the terrace, with five cats all ready to slink out (the sixth is not allowed out, and the seventh lives outdoors permanently).
With that out of the way, he joins his wife at the bar counter that divides the kitchen from the dining room. Over cereal and coffee – the first of 10 in a day for Bompard – they check their respective e-mail and schedules.
“This is where I confirm what I need to do for the next 15 hours,” he says. Ten minutes later, the cats are back on the terrace, waiting patiently to be let back in. “We have always had cats, since moving to Singapore in 2001,” he points out. Lai, who is affectionately brushing their fur, chimes in: “I started by being a sitter for a year, then gradually we started adopting them. Later, we also had strays who self-invited themselves into the family.”
9.30AM: COLLECTS WINE FOR DINNER PARTY
Ahead of a social gathering at their home over the weekend, the pair head for Richfield, a wine storage facility along Hillview Avenue, to pick up two bottles of Chateau Clerc Milon 1986. Bompard reveals that they started investing in wines in 2004 and, to date, have more than 4,000 bottles in their personal collection. Their storage locker is packed floor-to-ceiling with wine crates, with labels such as Petrus, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild.
Bompard is particularly proud that they have quite a few vertical collections of first growths from Bordeaux, ranging from 1989 to 2006. They also sell selected bottles from their personal collection to diners at Scotts 27 and, in the past, Le Saint Julien. “Edith takes care of wine sales, and I take care of the tasting,” says Bompard, with a big grin.
11AM: ARRIVES AT CUISINE SERVICE IN MACPHERSON
After greeting the 10 staff members, Bompard enters his office where he drips essential oil into an aromatherapy burner and lights it up. “The scents I use depend on my mood,” he says, as he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.
Started in 2013, B2B business Cuisine Service specialises in creating sous-vide dishes. Much of Bompard’s time in the day is spent office-bound, largely dedicated to tasks such as marketing the business, planning menus for clients, and thinking up new recipes every three to four months.
Donning a hair net and rubber boots, Bompard later enters the kitchen to check on his staff. Some 50kg of pumpkins are about to be baked for 45 minutes at 180 deg C to make a soup; and a few pieces of foie gras are on the counter ready to be tasted.
His staff also present him with a barramundi fillet, which has just arrived from an offshore Singapore seafood farm. He slices it with a knife to get eight portions of 90g each. “Using local produce is part of our sustainability effort. We are trying to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.”
2PM: VISITS CAR MECHANIC IN KAKI BUKIT
Bompard has had a passion for motor sports as far back as he can remember. He attributes it to his birth in the French town of Le Mans, where the renowned 24-hour sports car endurance race is held. “I was born in June 1969, during the week of the annual competition. My mother says she could hear the car engines while she was in labour in the hospital,” he says, with a smile.
These days, that passion is translated into the ownership of a pair of Ferraris – a 308 and 360 – which he takes on quarterly road trips to Malaysia with fellow members of the Ferrari Owners’ Club Singapore. He also takes the 360 up to the Sepang International Circuit for “gentleman races” with his friends. Each time there is a road trip or race, he sends his car to the mechanic at Italia Motors in Kaki Bukit for tuning and servicing.
“I find a lot of similarities between track racing and what I do as a chef – it is all about pushing myself to the limit, how to improve myself, and the excitement. I am constantly challenging myself.”
3.30PM MEETS CLIENT LAURENT BERNARD AT LAURENT’S CAFE, ROBINSONS THE HEEREN
After the thrill of Ferraris, Bompard climbs into his relatively sedate Mini Cooper and heads to Orchard Road to meet Laurent Bernard. A client of two years already, the French chocolatier also owns a cafe that serves savoury dishes, which he purchases from Cuisine Service. Today, Bompard is eager to show Bernard his latest offering: chicken breast or thigh roulade, with a variety of options for the stuffing, including forest mushrooms, served on a ratatouille and with orange sauce. He shows Bernard how best to heat up the dish after it is released from its vacuum packaging, and arranges it artfully on a plate.
“My clients come to me because they know I can offer consistency, despite the volume that they order. For Laurent, ordering the savoury dishes from me makes sense too, because he can replace the kitchen space with more seating capacity, while knowing he is still serving good, classic French food.”
5PM: ARRIVES AT SCOTTS 27
Seven months after Le Saint Julien closed, in August 2013, a former regular guest contacted the Bompards to be consultants for a restaurant he wanted to set up. Cue the birth of Scotts 27, a private dining, reservations-only eatery housed in a conservation black-and-white bungalow along the road of the same name. “It has been designed to re-create the feeling of going to a private home for a meal,” he describes.
When there are bookings for lunch or dinner, Bompard can be found in the kitchen whipping up menus customised to the guests’ preferences. “It could be French with Japanese influence, or French mixed with Italian,” he explains, while wedged inside his small office on the premises, tending to administrative tasks and taking a quick break, before the dinner service.
7pm: DINNER SERVICE COMMENCES
While waiting for the guests to arrive, Bompard experiments on the presentation of a duck dish he will serve at an event later in the week. The multielement course includes roast meat, the tongue and a portion of rillettes. Cut into one wall of the kitchen is a large rectangle framed in gold. “We want to create the effect of an artwork. Looking in from outside, you can see us practising our art,” he explains.
After the guests arrive, Bompard starts work on the amuse-bouche, which he later personally serves up. Named “Garden of Scotts 27”, it has a base of mashed purple and orange carrots onto which is delicately inserted ingredients such as shimeji mushrooms and asparagus. Sprinkled atop is chocolate powder to mimic soil, and dehydrated truffl e and raspberry. After the appetiser of Alaskan king crab with pomelo, Lai prepares the beef tartare in Gueridon service style, another defining feature of Scotts 27. She later cooks Scotts 27’s signature Crepe Suzette in the same manner, using a pan which she proudly shares was bought in New York in 1999, when they were living there, and has been used solely to create the dessert since.
10PM: SUPPER WITH WIFE AT DURIAN LINGERS
When the last guest leaves, the Bompards usually go to nearby Newton Food Centre for popiah, bak chor mee and fruit. Unfortunately, it is closed till April 24 for refurbishment. Reluctant to eat anything too unhealthy at such a late hour, they swing by Durian Lingers off Sixth Avenue for pomelo and papaya. The store is conveniently located en route home and, already, Lai is wondering how her beloved cats are.
“The life of a chef is very unhealthy,” says Bompard. “I try to balance it out by eating properly when I can.”