Jimmy Boulay, the french executive pastry chef in Japan
Jimmy Boulay Executive Pastry Chef at Conrad Osaka in Japan.
LE GUIDE MICHELIN KYOTO OSAKA 2020 – 5 RED PAVILION
2020 Forbes Travel Guide – 4 star
World Travel Award 2019 – Japan’s Leading City Hotel 2019
TripAdvisor ranking – No.1 in Osaka
Native from Le Mans in France, he began his career in Paris at Fauchon, then moved to London at Sketch before to come back to the Hotel Le Meurice in Paris as sous-chef of Cedric Grolet.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it? Do you have a motto?
I want to use the best ingredients like most of the chefs of course. Then being in Japan for few years now my taste is changing and I like to use Japanese ingredients with French style of cooking or techniques. Because I am doing French style dessert. I don’t have a motto but some sentence are deeply rooted in me such and inspire me as :
“I didn’t know it was impossible, so I did it” from Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
What will you never forget from your first year as a chef?
I would like to share 2 little stories.
When I was in Fauchon Paris, it was my 1st full time job as a commis. I had to re-learn so much after school, but it was so good, so formative. But I really felt being again at “school” after school…
Then I have also learned in my 1st real pastry chef position, than the team is the most important asset and most complicate to handle because we are all human being and all of us have different mood. So to me, to get a well welded team is the most important. Because amazing things can be done when you have deserved the trust of all your team. And I always do my best for my team since that Moment.
Many careers begin with hard times where some think about giving up. Was there also such a moment in your career and how did you overcome that? What would you do differently today?
When I was working in the chocolate factory, it was my first job, and it was very hard (well, I will say I was feeling it was hard at this time) We were working about 12h a day during Christmas season, always pushed to move on faster, in a very quiet environment, we could hear only machine noise, and the ambience between colleague was quite cold. We were 3 chocolate apprentices and we all talked together to decide if we should all continue our apprenticeship together or if we should all stop as we were feeling not good enough to do the job. We finally decide to stay and to work harder all together. That really marked me when I was younger but thinking about it now, makes me smile. Because it was my first experience and of course it was hard, but that was finally not that hard compare other experiences I have been through later on in my life.
Today I act much softer with colleague, firstly because I feel that it’s much better to work with a good and positive ambiance and also because nowadays people doesn’t accept anything anymore. I favor teamwork and do my best to make my team feel like we are “family” and I really believe in it.
I always do my best for my team and they know it and I get much more respect this way.
Paris, London, Kuwait, Tokyo, Osaka, where you work as Executive pastry chef at Conrad Osaka today. What moved you to an international chef career?
I always wanted to work and live in Japan. So when I was working in Fauchon Paris, Nicolas Jambert was executive pastry chef of Fauchon brend in Japan and he told me I either have to come as a chef or sous chef and speak English. So that’s why my next move has been London, with the futur goal in mind to work in Japan.
And then I actually liked working overseas while I was in England, even it wasn’t so far by the distance neither by the really similar French cultur, but I really started to enjoy it. Later when I have moved to Middle East it was a big cultural choc also the weither, fauna and flora, nature and landscape was really different than all I had seen before.
But the most cultural choc I have been facing was once arrived in Japan, they are opposit in many ways from Middle East people and so far different from European. That’s of course why I love travelling, to see things that’s I haven’t been prepared for.
Where does your strong preference for Japan comes from?
Since I was in pastry school in France, I remember my pastry teacher boasting about the perfect work of Japanese people so it has grown from that time. It also comes from many things in their cultur such as technologie, anime, beauty of the country, tradition, architecture, their wide culinary culture which take an import part in Japan, same as we do in France.
You come from the classic French patisserie. How would you describe the Japanese patisserie?
There is their traditionnal Japanese “pastry” or should I say “Japanese sweets”, which are made with very basic ingredients such as white bean paste, red bean paste, rice flour… and some other ingredients sometime depending the season, the location and which speciality is it.
They make it always in a really beautiful way, most of the time into flowers with beautiful light colors.
But then they have also got European influences. So now they have many dessert very similar at what we can find in Europe. I would say the look is mostly basic, traditionnal, not really modern. But most of the time it is really tasty.
And they have their unbeatable short cake in first position, Japanese people love it.
Then many other welknown desserts that you must have in your traditionnal cake shop, such as cheese cake, Mont Blanc.
Do the French and Japanese pâtissiers go together?
Yes, of course, once you get to know each other, understand the cultur, be flexible and compromise it is really enjoyable, “Tanoshimi” as they say in japanese. We are very accomplice my team and myself. I need to know they appreciate to work with me and I know they do. Even with some new taste that they aren’t really use to it, they try everything and always answer positively to what I create.
Does French Japanese Fusion Pâtissier work?
Being in Japan I will say it would be really worthless to do 100% French Pastry. But I get to know more and more japanese products and I really like to work with it. Always such good quality.
There is so many kinds of citrus here that I can’t even tell how many.
My approach of this fusion is very simple, using technique that I have learned in France with Japanese products and of course sometimes mix japanese products with europeen one.
And it always match really well.
The Japanese are perfectionists. How do you see your work attitude and way of working in as Pâtissier?
I used to work in the Hotel Le Meurice and most of the team was already perfectionist. So to me it mostly depend in what place you work than the country..
In Paris, you can have very detailed working people as people who aren’t really pasionate and focused in their job.
But that’s the exactly same in Japan.
And I am facing same challenges that we have in France, overtime and sometime not enough staff if I would like to increase to a next level the quality of our dessert.
What are some of the trends in Japanese pastry?
I already quite answered in a previous question but to go further; I would say, they are really into semi-dry items such as biscuits. They buy to offer to other people or colleagues (it’s called “omiyage”) because it’s really convenient to carry and conservation is also long. It’s a really huge market and that has really surprised me when I first arrived to Japan.
Also Japanese loves chocolates and they buy a lot, it has always been a good sales where I have been working.
And then of course they like traditionnal cake, but refined quality product. Colors are most of the time really sober giving off a more natural image counter to Paris where you can see so many vivid cakes.
If you compare Tokyo with Osaka, Osaka is considered to be crazier, freer, wilder… . Do you see this in the pastry as well?
Yes I felt it in some pastry shop, but with people I work with and also interacted I have definitely seen it.
It’s so obvisous, people in Osaka are much more open and warm.
Sometime you feel like if you were in a small city but that city has almost 2.7 millions residents.
The traditional Osaka cuisine is very special. How do you feel about it?
It’ really interesting to see so many specialty everywhere you go in Japan.
But Osaka is really rich by so many specialty.
I do really like Osaka cuisine with there plenty dishes.. (okonomiyaki, takoyaki, kushikatsu…)
How does Japan inspire you as pastry chef?
I get inspired in Japan by it’s nature, architectur, design, zen feeling of some place, of course from other pastry chef also.
Everyone get inspired by others.
Japan is a wonderful tourist destination. What is it like to work here?
I get really influenced by japanese ingredients as I like to work with local products.
I really like working here, as I have told before, beeing in a city of more than 2,7 millions of people and feeling sometime in a small city because it can be so quiet.
Also feeling secure, compare to other cities. Train always exactly in time, no transport strikes like in Paris.
I like to go to onsen (public bath) and ryokan (traditionnal japanese hotel), it is so relaxing and revivifying, so good to disconnect from work.
How is it to work in Japanese kitchens/ is it sometimes noisy here?
It is generally very quiet, so it feels good to animate the pastry and interact with them.
Japanese chefs, like many other chefs can be really bossy. And that’s really not my way to do, so I do my best to keep their morale at it’s best. But most of the time I saw a noisy kitchen it was because a “gaikokujin” (foreigner in japanese) was in the kitchen.
The topic of local food, from smaller, specialised.. and personally known producers, is becoming more important. What are some of your local partners from whom you source?
Working in a Hotel, I don’t have much problem to find good producers. But yes build relationship with small producers is really something important. Whenever I look for specific product our purchasing team will look for any suppliers and sometimes they will find a small producer doing very good stuff.
We have very good relation with a small farm that provide many dairy product, such as fromage blanc and a specialty using their own product like traditionnal souffle cheese cake.
We get japanese rice puffed specially for us which is normally use for genmaicha (a green tea with puffed rice)
What recommendations can you give to foreign chefs who, like you, would like to venture to Japan to work?
My recommendations for other that would like to work in Japan, will be what I have been taught.
Speak english really helps even if many japanese have the same level than French people, but it isn’t really a compliment. Haha
Then a foreigner chef need to work much harder to prove why he can do the job while it could be a Japanese chef instead. So he need to have very good skills and be confident in himself.
At last but most important, like everywhere, he need to really care about his team, take the time to understand a new culture, to don’t rush things, and forget about European management, Japan is totally different.
Once you overcome the challenges that you have faced, you became familiar with the culture and you get accepted by your team, then it become really enjoyable.
Japan is a really beautiful country full of history, I really love being here and I hope I will enjoy many more years here?
What is the best and worst aspects of working as a professional chef?
How does the job change people?
Well the best aspect is that more than 11 years after I start working, I feel that I live from my passion. But sometime I wish I have a bit more time for myself as since many years I am working 14-15h a day, which is still not so crazy compare to many chefs but so incomprehensible for most of people not in food industry.
When I hear about what other’s people eat or just their knowledge about food, I am really of being in food industry, because I care a lot about what I eat, ingredients used…
Also I am very proud of being a pastry chef, because we always have to take fast decision, sometime under pressure, also be responsible of people, be creative and all of that is reflected in my life, I know what I want, if a problem occur I will take a quick decision to solve it. All of that because of my Job.
If you were to write a cookbook, what would it be about?
If I really knew and had a clear idea about what book I would like to do I would work very hard to get it done. But so far I don’t really know yet what I really would like to publish…
If one day I made it to do a book, I believe it would be about my way of approaching dessert, interwinding design, nature, quality of ingredients, responsible cooking, natural…
What are the most misunderstood aspects about the job of a chef?
Teachers and professionals keep repeating to us at the beginning that this job is really hard, many will stop and only a few will really succeed. But they also teach us that work’s pay off. When you want something just work hard for it.
To me about most misunderstood aspects that chef’s job takes is people dream to become chefs or pastry chefs after watching “Top Chef” or whatsoever other TV shows. And they think chef is an easy job.. well it isn’t easy.
And I wouldn’t have studied pastry for 5 years if anyone watching a TV program can do my job so easily.
So, chef is a very busy job with long working days.
What is your view on fusion cuisine?
I really like the idea, and it is actually what I am doing most of the time. Creating new dessert using Japanese ingredients combined with European ingredients assembled with French techniques.
Which easy recipes could you outline for us (ingredients, preparation) that represent your work that you think we should try?
Please check out my Instagram page to see a video about this surprising rainbow chocolate.
It’s a new chocolate bonbon using a new chocolate technique.
It’s 100% natural, no food color added to it. And I used our special Conrad blended tea but any tasty tea would be good. It’s slightly salty and crunchy to have a well balance between different taste and textures.
With space it would be more clear I believe betweeen 1, 2 and 3.
220g Almond and hazelnut praline
23g Tea leaves blended into powder
15g Cocoa butter Mycryo
32g Beurre noisette
50g Alunga milk chocolate 41%
25g Ocoa dark chocolate 70%
50g Feuillantine (blended)
0,5g Salt (fleur de sel)
Mix 1 together. Melt and mix all 2 together. Mix together 1 and 2, then add 3.
Keep in the warmer overnight (1 day) to infuse the tea in the fat of the recipe.
Temper like chocolate to reach 25/26°c and then pipe it.
Check the Instagram profile of Jimmy Boulay: @jimmyboulay