In 2017, French chef Julien Ombredane took year-long posts at On Dining and Upper Modern Bistro by Philippe Orrico and fell in love with Hong Kong. When he stumbled upon another opportunity to work in the city after temporarily returning to his hometown of Marseille, he jumped at the chance. Now, he’s the executive chef at French bistro Scarlett Café & Wine Bar in Hong Kong.
How did you get into food and cooking?
My interest in food began when I was a child. For as long as I could remember, I always searched for ingredients inside the fridge to cook something for myself. Eventually I began cooking for family and friends, and that’s when my passion and eventual career as a chef took off.
What training did you do to become a chef?
I decided to attend hospitality school in Marseille. After receiving my diploma, I began my gastronomic journey as a commis in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Not only did I get to develop my cooking skills there, but I also learnt the importance of efficiency and team-work in a kitchen and restaurant environment.
What do you think are the most important attributes for a chef?
For me, the most important attribute for a chef is humility. Without it, we would forget that every day is a new challenge and we would stop improving. Plus with humility, we will never take advantage of our success, but rather cherish it, learn from it, and try to make ourselves and our service even better than yesterday.
What makes a good dish?
There needs to be a balance between each element on the plate, from the textures to the seasoning and even the temperature. But to create this, it starts with the ingredients that you use. At Scarlett Hong Kong, we carefully select our products to ensure quality in every dish. Wherever possible, we use organic produce with the aim to work directly with farmers so we know where our food comes from. For instance, all of our oysters are from the farm of Yvon Madec in the northwest part of France. He farms Prat-Ar-Coum oysters, which are well-balanced in flavor and can only be found in Brittany.
What’s one of your favorite cuisines, personally?
I love to eat all kinds of food, but if I had to choose my first love was French food. I also enjoy the flavors of the Mediterranean, particularly Italian and Lebanese.
What were your aims for the new menu at Scarlett Cafe & Wine Bar?
I had a lot of fun working on the new menu. I wanted to create dishes inspired by French and Mediterranean cuisine through using ingredients such as snails, burrata, and squid. In the journey of creation, I also wanted to include some typical French dishes such as le confit de canard, confit duck served with roasted potatoes, and velouté parmentier, a French-style potato and leek soup.
As part of the new menu, we also introduced a new selection of cheeses from around France. We have selected special cheeses, many that are AOC-certified, which is a designation given to certain French cheeses that certifies and protects its origins. An example is époisses fermier that is only produced in the Burgundy region. This special AOC cheese has an orange crust with a creamy yet strong flavor. During its production, époisses fermier slowly ripens for three to four weeks, and every week the cheesemaker washes the rind with pomace brandy from Burgundy.
What are the top three most important things to keep in mind when pairing wine with food, in your opinion?
Taste, balance and feeling. In order to create the best pairing, we need to understand the taste of the wine and the taste of the food on its own. Then we can select the best wine to go with the food, as one should not dominate another, but instead complement each other and balance the meal out perfectly.
What are some of the most common misconceptions — or lesser known facts — about French food?
Outside of France, French cuisine is often associated with fine dining experiences that only use expensive products. However, for me, French food is actually about simplicity, quality technique, and respect for fresh seasonal ingredients.
Any plans for the future?
I love this part of the world, so I see myself continuing to experiment more with local and seasonal ingredients from Asia in order to continue creating interesting and innovative dishes for my guests.
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