Clement Pellerin – Working as a French Chef in Asia
Clement Pellerin is a French chef. His culinary journey began in France where he worked for two different 2-Michelin-starred restaurants and it took him to the other side of the world to Asia with a stopover in Ireland. What Clement has experienced so far on his journey and where he wants to go one day, you can read in this beautiful Chef portrait.
Clement Pellerin – A Chef portrait
Clement, where does your love for cooking come from?
It was seeing what could be done by mixing ingredients, I was curious. And still am. The research on ingredients, what can be done with them, the science behind it and the impact a dish can have on people are very exciting and driving forward experiences.
Which cooking school did you visit in France?
I went to culinary and pastry schools both in Normandie.
There are many stereotypes and misunderstandings in French cooking. What did you learn during your time at the cooking school in France – a combination of traditional and modern French cooking?
No, only traditional French, savory and pastry. I learned about more modern ways few years later, when I started reading about food science in books from scientists like Hervé This and Harold McGee and kept reading since.
At the beginning of your career as a chef, you worked in two different 2-Michelin-starred restaurants in France. How did this time affect you as a young chef and does it still today?
I learned discipline, focus, and to strive for perfection.
Remaining at the Michelin star and fine dining kitchen, you worked for several years as Chef de Partie and Sous Chef in Dublin, Ireland. What did you learn from that time as a chef in Ireland? What is still useful to you today?
Compared to the starred restaurants in Paris, the kitchens and the teams in Dublin were smaller, sometimes much smaller. When I took my first sous-chef position in one of Dublin’s fine dining, 50 seaters, the team had 5 members. After few months, only the Chef and me remained. I became obsessed with organization and how to deliver the same quality with as less people as possible.
I was running starter, veg and pastry section on my own, still able to have time to pull sugar for birthday cakes and bake soufflés for parties of 30 pax. This is when I realized that anything is possible, anywhere, anytime, as long as you believe in it and you give yourself to it.
“My management style couldn’t be the same as in Europe.” – Clement Pellerin
In 2011 you moved to Asia, Shanghai, as Chef de cuisine at Waldorf Astoria. What was your first impression as a French chef in China?
Shanghai was just great. Arriving from Europe, I had never seen such a big city, with skyscrapers everywhere. I could get any products I wanted and discovered many new ones. However, I had to adapt. Such a different culture, my management style couldn’t be the same as in Europe. I had to find a way to have the team follow me. No way to be pushy.
My cooking had to change as well to accommodate the Asian palate. Lower down the salt and sugar, and for some dishes even make them milder in taste.
After working as a Chef de cuisine at The Dome in Bangkok, in 2013 you moved to Taipei, Taiwan, where you work in the French fine dining restaurant Paris 1930, awarded “2016 Asia Best Guests” by Favorable Impression Media and “Best Restaurant 2017” by EZ Table. Based on your experience in Asia, what do your guests expect in French cuisine? There are still many wrong stereotypes, right?
Yes, there is, especially in Taiwan, where the culinary market is not as developed as in Shanghai, Hong Kong or even Bangkok. A French fine dining is still seen as an expensive experience, where you go for your birthday or a special occasion and where you should be served lobster bisque, foie gras, truffles and crêpe suzette.
A misconception of French cooking is that French cooking has nothing to do with modernity, innovation, creativity … and it’s still about tradition and cooking dishes that have been cooked by chefs that are not alive anymore by now. Since this is not the case with your work, how do you define “haute cuisine” and “French gastronomy” today?
I take “haute cuisine” as a mean to discover and research.
French gastronomy, even with its strong history and its encyclopedia of renown dishes is definitely more about the hospitality, the way we enjoy eating and spend time at the table, the love of great ingredients and their terroir.
With history in mind, French cooking is always evolving, using the best to create new creations and find the best ingredients. Where do you get your ingredients from? Do you have some local producers?
In Asia, I always look first at the local products and producers. This way, you become part of the community, avoid importations issues and regulations and bring something new to the table: ingredients that I never encountered before, cooked a way the locals never had before.
Back in Taipei, you have published a menu “French Gastronomy Through Time” that combines tradition and innovation. Which dish describes it best?
I guess the “Truite en Bellevue” is the best example to explain the concept of the menu. Originally created by Madame de Pompadour around 1750, the dish was a piece of fish cooked in a court bouillon, cooled down and coated with a gelatinous stock, served with mayonnaise and other condiments.
As the menu was about what could have been those dishes if they had been created today, we worked on the trout to be able to serve it hot instead of cold, and still coated in jelly. Feat that couldn’t have work back in the 18th century.
How would you describe your personal culinary line today?
It is really “explorative”, with no boundaries and no fixed style, which would restrict the creative process. Constant researches on ingredients and concepts that lead the way to how I will cook and present the dishes. To me, there is no traditional or modern way, there is just cooking. Using what is best to sublime an ingredient.
How often do you usually change the menus?
In Taipei, I had 2 set menus of 12 dishes each, one changing after the other every 6 to 8 weeks.
Is there any place in the world you would like to work as a chef one day? (➔ looking for new career opportunities?)
Yes, South America. I came upon a lot of ingredients and techniques that I had never seen before while traveling, especially in Asia. Moving to the other side of the Globe would definitely be a great chance to discover and keep learning about new cultures, ingredients, etc.
If you had time to write your own culinary cookbook, what would it be about?
Having worked in different countries, it would be about the indigenous ingredients that I came across with and the creative process that went on to use them in my cooking.
Thank you very much, Clement!
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