When two award-winning culinary creatives unite for a dining collaboration, avid foodie patrons like me promptly secured seats to indulge our senses in this highly-anticipated event. Chef Chele Gonzalez hosted Chef Julien Royer at Gallery by Chele last December for two dinners that featured touches of modern French and Spanish with Filipino flavors and ingredients.
For those fortunate enough to snag a table at this two-night-only affair, it was a great opportunity to sample the dishes of Chef Julien—the culinary talent behind Odette, which many consider to be the best restaurant in Singapore—without having to fly there for a meal. I was also fortunate to have a conversation with both chefs prior to my meal, giving me the chance to see through their minds, gain insights about their respective backgrounds, and catch a glimpse into their creative thinking process.
Chef Julien’s French heritage
The first time I dined at Odette was just months after its opening inside the National Gallery Singapore in 2015. The moment I walked into this modern French restaurant, I knew the service would be top notch and the food amazing, based on my experience at Jaan, Chef Julien’s previous restaurant also in Singapore. I recognized the creativity and quality of the dishes and my expectations on the perfect execution of his dishes were spot on.
Since Odette opened, it has earned many accolades, including two Michelin stars earned just a year after it first opened, a No. 5 spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018, and a No. 28 ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018.
Originally from Cantal, France, Chef Julien grew up cooking with his grandmother Odette, who taught him to use and appreciate seasonal ingredients and fresh produce from their family farm. According to Chef Julien, he learned from his grandmother the principle that the very best meals are those delivered through a gracious, polite, and kind experience. Clearly influenced by her, he named his restaurant after her, paying the ultimate homage to her legacy.
Chef Julien’s food philosophy follows his belief of sourcing exceptional ingredients, considering its seasonality and terroir, and buying carefully sourced artisanal produce from trusted purveyors. In 2018, Chef Julien hosted notable chefs such as Virgilio Martinez of Central Restaurante Peru, Thomas and Matthias Sühring of Sühring Bangkok, and Chele Gonzalez himself.
Five visits running, I’ve had many a memorable meal at Odette, and I’m planning to visit regularly to indulge in the food as Chef Julien’s menu evolves over time.
Chef Chele’s Filipino inspirations
I had only visited Gallery Vask once a few years ago, so I was excited to revisit the newly-relaunched Gallery by Chele to experience Chef Chele’s food once again. With this Spanish chef’s approach to food combining modern technique and careful sourcing of local ingredients from select suppliers, I do feel his passion for cooking exudes through his dishes.
Together with his partner and collaborator, Chef Carlos Villaflor, the chefs showcase locally sourced ingredients and regional Filipino inspirations though their tasting menus, using techniques they refined in their journey to becoming one of the country’s best chefs.
As part of this year’s series of collaborations called Serie Kulynaria, Chef Chele has hosted notable chefs from the region like Richard Ekkebus of Amber in Hong Kong, Jethro Vincent of Bikini in Bali, Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok, and Chef Julien of Odette capping this year’s series.
A Franco-Spanish-Filipino collaboration
Chef Chele and Chef Julien’s recent collaboration at Gallery by Chele featured each of the chef’s specialty dishes. They stayed true to their individual styles, keeping the menu harmoniously cohesive while highlighting notable local ingredients. Enthusiastic oohs and aahs resonated in the air as dish after artfully-plated dish arrived at our table.
The meal started with a series of bite-sized snacks, such as Black de Sal with Adobo by Chef Chele, which surprised everyone for its unassuming visuals yet delivered all the expected flavors. The delicately crispy Potato Gaufrette with Smoked Cream and Cured Trout by Chef Julien was simple yet each component stood out without overpowering the other.
The meal then progressed with a series of dishes paired with wines, providing a multi-sensorial experience in varying textures, flavors, and colors that left everyone at the table gushing. Chef Chele’s lineup included a silky-smooth Ube Chawanmushi made with tinapa dashi, sweet suahe shrimp, seaweed, brined banana heart topping, and Bicol Express sauce, adding a Filipino twist to one of my favorite Japanese dishes.
Chef Julien featured freshly picked Mud Crab with Aligue and Ginger, draped with an apple and celery gel, then dotted with wasabi oil for a hint of spiciness. The gelified sauce is a modernist way of delivering a sauce to the dish, which I find to be an exciting way to present a sauce. Yet it’s functional and serves as a conversation point with guests.
Chef Julien then prepared a classic French pie called Pithivier, layering it with buttery foie gras and perfectly cooked pigeon baked in a pie shell, topped with copious shavings of black truffle. It was served with a gelatinous demi-glace-like sauce accentuating the dish to the next level. This is now one of my favorite dishes by Chef Julien.
Chef Julien’s Blue River Prawns with carrots had an unexpected ingredient, tonka beans—a wrinkled black bean from South America related to the pea family—which had an amaretto-vanilla aroma used to enhance the dish’s flavors.
Desserts such as Chef Julien’s light and punchy Yuzu Tart with Calamansi, Breton Sablé, Shiso and Basil, as well as Chef Chele’s sinfully addictive (and one of my favorites) Ube Torrija with Coconut with a splash of Don Papa Rum sauce came next, leaving us full, satiated, and satisfied with memories of a well-executed collaboration by two talented and passionate chefs.
With a noteworthy collaboration closing this year’s series of food events, I am hopeful that more amazing partnerships will materialize in the Philippines in 2019, continuing to make Manila an amazing foodie destination. In the meantime, you can head over to Gallery by Chele or, if you’re in Singapore, to Odette to experience what happens when talent, creativity, modern technique, and carefully sourced ingredients come together.
Odette, 1 St. Andrew’s Road #01-04, National Gallery, Singapore, www.odetterestaurant.com
Photos by Dre Ferrer courtesy of Gallery by Chele