A few months ago, as I was researching an article for the beautiful website Eat Love, I had the opportunity to meet with Ludovic Geyer, a French Chef who runs with partner Xavier Huitorel the popular Bistro Papillon, located in Sydney CBD.
Ludovic generously gave me his time to answer my questions about his experience of food as a French man who has been living in Australia for 8 years now.
Here are his answers… (translated into English by myself)
What type of cuisines do you like when you eat out here?
I like everything, I’m very curious. If I go out, it will be small plates, Asian food, things you can share. I like Yum cha, it brings another element to lunch or dinner, I like Asian food in Sydney. But if I hear about a good Spanish restaurant where they make a good paella, I’ll go for it, but generally it’s Asian.
Is there a favourite place you like to go to, after service for example?
Sometimes after work, we go out with the waiters and the chefs to Golden Century, and we order 5-6 dishes to share between us: happiness!
What’s your favourite Asian dish?
My favourite Asian dish… I can’t pronounce it: pork mince that you put in leaves… San Choi Bao! Before ordering, I always make sure that there is someone around who knows that dish! I love chilli, I love spicy food. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t like when I arrived here, for example sushi… raw fish, no way! But like everyone, your tastes evolve, you don’t think you’re gonna like it, but then after seeing it over and over, you try and you surprise yourself.
In France, you don’t eat spicy food. Two years after when I went back home, I was very excited, I told my family I’m gonna cook Thai food, I’m gonna show you! And I didn’t realise it at the time, but it didn’t go well, not at all, they were all crying at the table, I could tell they were all forcing themselves to make me happy, but they could not eat the dish! No, we don’t eat spicy food at home. When I go home now, it’s not that I need to adapt to the food at home, but sometimes it’s difficult. In Strasbourg, it’s cold and the food is quite heavy, with a lot of cholesterol etc.
What foods do you miss from home?
Cheese: when I go home, I generally make a raclette. One of the first things I do is go to the supermarket, and I buy cheese and wine. There are always cheeses I didn’t know about. We’re very lucky in that respect. A cheese platter at home is very pleasurable. Same thing for wine, one of the first things I do is buy a “Vendanges tardives”, or a “Gewurztraminer”, you find them all at the supermarket. I do like Raclette, it’s always very convivial. I used to work in Switzerland, where they would scrape the cheese from the half wheel of cheese placed near the grill. I would love to bring it here, I’m sure it could work, it’s different, and people like new concepts.
What do you think could be improved with food in Australia?
I have a lot of respect for food in Australia: with the chefs in my kitchen I always boast the merits of Australian food, like beef (I did butchery for one year in France). Very good quality is important to me, I have no problem finding very good quality meat here, pork and especially beef, I always find what I want, there’s nothing to envy France. We tried beef here in the kitchen, all six of us, and those pieces were the best we’ve ever tried, from Tasmania, Northern Australia. Same for Fruits & Veg, thanks to the sunny weather, they taste fine, you sometimes have to pay the more, but I find all my produce here. Most of the ingredients are Australian, except snails and cheese, which is a pity, but when it comes from France it’s already much more expensive, and we have to pass it to the customer, and we don’t like it, because we want to keep our prices reasonable.
Any favourite Australian cheese?
I haven’t tasted many Australian cheeses, I like the French ones too much! I’m sure it’s a mistake on my part, as I’m sure there are people working very hard here to produce good cheese here and doing good work. I was surprised with goats cheese, it’s good quality. Yarra Valley are making really good cheese, I was surprised with the quality of their cheese. But I can’t talk too much about Australian cheese, I’m too stuck on French cheese!
We run a French restaurant, our concept is to be 100% French. When we opened the restaurant, we thought we should maybe offer Australian, Italian wines, then we decided to take the risk and do all French. People liked it straight away. It’s our identity now, whether it’s to do with the cheese, the wine, the food, or the music, the waiters, everything… We’ve had such a good feedback from our customers, who said “We really feel like we’re in France!”, so now we have this identity, and we stick to it.
To you, what is the main difference between Australia & France in terms of cuisine?
I rate French cuisine very highly. In traditional cooking, you use basic techniques, I don’t know if it goes back to when I was an apprentice, my chef was very precise, methodical, so the techniques were almost forced into me, but I think in France we have the bases, and as long as we follow and respect the bases we’ll do good cooking. There are some things in Asian cuisine that blow me away, but with French techniques, you can’t cheat.
What do you think of people saying that France is a culinary museum and that Spain is where it’s all happening now?
I also heard that Spanish chefs have a great reputation at the moment. We do traditional cooking, I don’t watch all the cooking shows, I like cooking my way, the traditional way. I have been cooking traditional dishes for 18 years, it makes me happy and it makes people happy. I agree that it’s good to want cooking to evolve, but it has to be in the right direction, a lot of people try to do different things, but sometimes it can easily become a bit too much.
It doesn’t have to be a competition either (between France and Spain), in France we have good food: we’ve always had good food, we’ll always make good food. For example: a good sauce, fish fumet, a veal stock, we’ll never do better than that. Some clients sometimes say it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten. We haven’t created anything, we do something traditional. Sometimes people do things too complicated, but that’s my opinion: I like traditional food.
What do you think of molecular food?
It’s not really my thing, I’ve been to good restaurants, where there was a bit of molecular cuisine, but it cost me $200, and that ruined a bit my experience. El Bulli, all of that… I’m curious, I look at it, it’s beautiful, there are pretty colours etc. But honestly that’s not my thing. It’s a matter of taste, and always will be. I’m sure I could be blown away by many things, but at the end of the day, when you get the bill on the table… often I’ve been disappointed. I read Good Living etc, it’s good when you have a restaurant to know what’s happening, we go out to eat, we try things… the last things I’ve tasted were good, but often expensive.
I like the places where you eat well and don’t pay too much: little Thai, sushi, Vietnamese places, often run by people who take pleasure in what they’re doing and “don’t take the piss”. Like “Sushi on Stanley”: every time I go there, I think they forgot something on the bill, there’s a lot of food, it’s fresh and for 2 persons you can eat for $35 maximum. I like to go to Toko as well, it’s a bit more fancy, you have a cocktail, it’s nice, but 10 times more expensive.
Where do you take your friends who visit from overseas?
The magic of Sydney is the diversity of cultures and necessarily, it often comes back to food, so we go to Chinatown, to the fish market, we buy a fish for a BBQ dinner, we can have Yum Cha, we go to the park, eat a crab or grilled fish, we go to the beach and eat something there. You have the best of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, or French, Italian. I’ll never tire of it, if you like food, Sydney is really a city where you’ll be happy. When friends or family come, we spend our time eating. When I go to France as well, it’s all about the food.
Thank you Ludovic for your time!
98 Clarence Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9262 2402