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Ugly-looking ingredients taste better, says Odette’s Julien Royer

Top chef also shares tips to reduce food wastage.

This is part of Julien Royer’s The Stories of Odette.


“I don’t eat worms.” This was what a diner – who had sent a note with her online reservation stating that she is a VIP and a foodie – told me when we served her a dish with some knobbly crosnes. I think to be truly interested in food, you have to be interested in ingredients. And if you are interested in ingredients, you will know that they are not meant to be pristine and perfect.

I grew up on a farm, with my parents growing vegetables in the garden largely for the family. They never used pesticides – but simply employed all-natural treatments to the soil and left nature to do its work. And the vegetables we harvested were not the most good-looking and were lower in production rates, but they were the tastiest for sure.

cantal

Royer grew up in the countryside of Cantal, France. His grandmother (far right) and grandfather worked in this small farm.

Growing up seeing ingredients as nature intended, it was quite scary when I first visited a supermarket in a big city as a teenager – I couldn’t recognise the produce. They were strangely, suspiciously perfect.

“It was quite scary when I first visited a supermarket in a big city as a teenager – I couldn’t recognise the produce.”

Julien Royer

Here’s the thing: When an orange goes through more than 55 treatments from the time it is planted to the time the fruit gets to our homes, you know that something is wrong with our lives. The biggest food problem that we will face is not that there isn’t enough for everybody to eat, but that they won’t be safe to eat.

So I prefer my produce a bit odd in shape. A bit bruised. I love them dirty. (Unless they are from Japan, where a completely different standard applies.) These are signs of freshness – and honesty of the people behind the product.

“If you are interested in ingredients, you will know that they are not meant to be pristine and perfect.”

Julien Royer

I am working on an importation licence to bring in boutique ingredients from small producers – such as Agrumes Baches Mont Canigou, which grows beautiful citrus fruits like cedrat. Its peel has a natural sweetness balanced by a bit of acidity. Such small producers are usually reluctant to export because they don’t need to, but will be happy to share their wares if you build a personal relationship with them. Some commercial suppliers like the challenge when I request a specific product from a small producer to be brought in; it will not be so much about making money as it is about bringing in something special. However, not all suppliers share the same passion.

Similarly, while I share my philosophy on ugly ingredients with my team at the restaurant – and keeping an open mind makes every day more fascinating – I don’t try to shove the message down the throat of our diners. It is a joy to share with some diners, but some truly couldn’t care less.

celerisotto

Quality of ingredients are core – aesthetics are secondary.

We get a wide spectrum of people who come to Odette, and not everyone wants a lesson. I think that is quite sad, because it is everybody’s responsibility to know what they eat and purchase. However, as this is my restaurant, it is my daily task and my responsibility to be genuine – and use the right produce.

Being passionate about ugly ingredients doesn’t mean that I go out of my way to highlight the gritty beauty of them on the plate. I still trim, peel and shape them to form a beautiful dish that represents my style.

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Escalope of foie gras, with root vegetables including crosnes, and hibiscus and pear.

And out of respect for the ingredients, I look for ways to reuse the trimmings and bones. Some fine-dining restaurants take it to the extreme and discard produce just because they don’t conform to their exacting requirements in terms of size or shape – that is a waste.

3 Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Julien Royer ’s love for honest ingredients translates into a respect for them – and a no-waste ethic that maximises the use of every bit. He shares his tips on reducing food was te in the kitchen.

EVERYTHING AND NOTHING I worked at Michel Bras’ restaurant for a couple of days and got in trouble big time because his mother looked into the bin and saw that I had thrown away the spinach stem after cleaning the vegetable. She uses them in a vegetable stock or keeps them for the rabbit. They do not throw away anything but find uses for every scrap.

SECOND CHANCE Keep chicken bones from making stock and make a second stock – you get a nice light broth with a very strong chicken flavour which can be used to feed the first stock.

SOFT CORE Also at Michel Bras, the tough core of cauliflowers – which are usually discarded – are lacto-fermented. This takes nothing more than salt, vegetables and water, and does not require canning or fancy equipment. It is also the process by which traditional dill pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut are made. The end product tastes yeasty and savoury.

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Read more of The Stories of Odette.