Today, we chat with Cyrille Mollé, who recently became the new executive chef at Raffles Beijing…
You were recently appointed executive chef at Raffles Beijing; what new concepts and culinary styles will you bring to the hotel?
As the new executive chef of the iconic Raffles Beijing Hotel, I am responsible for the running and overseeing of all food products and outlets. This includes the eminent Jaan restaurant, the heritage celebrated venue Writers Bar, East 33 the traditional yet contemporary Chinese restaurant and the 24 hours In Room Dining outlet.
Jaan, complemented with Writers Bar is the most beautiful dining room I have yet to see in my career and has been a dining destination for dignitaries and people with style for almost a century now. For that, I will not tolerate serving dishes that do not make justice to this room leading to greatness of taste for our diners.
Guests can be excited and look forward for an upcoming menu change in all outlets combined with promotions throughout the year matched with starred guest chefs. With the new French brasserie and bistro concept for Writers Bar and Jaan, my philosophy is to prepare simple yet rich dishes with focus on fresh and natural flavors.
We are also about to launch our traditional afternoon tea in Writers bar showcasing our homemade and refined pastries. When it comes to East 33, breakfast will continue to be our main focus keeping us among the top in the city. I would also like to add that we are introducing a new notion to breakfast, something no one has experienced yet in the city – stay tuned!
How do you find it working in Chinese kitchens, and is the atmosphere/way of working different from European kitchens?
I am sure you’ve already heard the saying: “you are what you eat”. In my profession in particular, it certainly takes time to understand the food culture in general. China is now home for me and a big part of my current and future life. I also do not try to connect any dots with my past experience in Europe or try to impose a European style on my team. To me, technique and way of working is equally as important as the ingredients and recipes you choose.
Working with local ingredients and crafting unique flavourful dishes that are balanced and healthy is what we try to craft every day here at Raffles kitchens. The atmosphere is certainly different and building my own theatrical kitchen environment that fits China has taken a lot patience and passion.
You were schooled in France but have worked in Asia for many years; how does this contrast in styles reflect in your cooking?
I definitely love the path that lead me to where I am today in terms of skills and refinement. I can say it was a bit difficult for the first three years to find the right balance between products, characters of chefs and ingredients I could find in China, but at the same time it has offered me the chance to experience new products and to discover new techniques and flavour mixes. I wouldn’t replace this experience with anything else if I had to do it again; as we say in France: travels forge the youngest.
In 2010 you were executive chef for the French Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. How did this experience differ from working in a normal restaurant?
The food and beverage scene in Shanghai is extremely vibrant with so many different cuisines and dining concepts already established compared to Beijing for example. Many restaurants which are by the Bund are amongst the favourite spots as they provide an enhanced atmosphere and dining experience.
The biggest challenge at the Shanghai Expo was the kitchen which was designed to serve 350 covers a day for a room with seating capacity of about 180 covers per period. The business was also very inconsistent depending on the weather and seasons; on an average day we served 600 covers and we sometimes reached 1,200 covers per day which was very difficult to accommodate given the set-up. Everything was prepared on site without any external production kitchen.
Beside the logistics, as many of my counterparts would also concur, difficulties in China remain with discipline affecting timeliness and rightfulness of orders and products. This was however one unbelievable and unmatchable experience!
How do you feel that China is developing? Are Chinese diners still quite conservative or are you seeing a strong interest in global cuisine?
To be honest, I am still a little puzzled at the moment when I compare two big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. My main experience was in Shanghai and the market is definitely very different compared to the capital.
Even though the Beijingers have tendency to eat out much more than the Shanghainese, the culture is more geared towards traditional Beijing cuisine here while people in Shanghai are more adventurous towards exploring new food.
Choice of food and variety has certainly expanded to match the demand of the country, and we are seeing a slow yet trendy rise in people venturing out to explore global cuisine as Chinese people travel more and more to the western world. I am very confident that our new concepts here at Raffles will contribute to spark more interest in global cuisine for the local community.