Julien Royer of Odette on Finding Hope in Challenging Times
When the pandemic hit just over a year ago, the resilience of Singapore’s already competitive restaurant industry was faced with its biggest test to date. Thankfully, this also brought to light its inspiring fighting spirit and camaraderie, and the significance of its survival to a nation of food lovers. “While the industry continues to face changes, it’s also shown us that F&B experiences remain crucial to the community,” shares Julien Royer of Odette, which has in the las five years strived to represent the pinnacle fine dining.
Established in collaboration with The Lo & Behold Group, Odette’s constantly evolving menu is guided by Royer’s lifelong respect for seasonality, terroir and artisanal produce sourced from boutique producers around the world. This commitment led to its three-Michelin star rating in 2019 and the No. 18 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list the same year. Odette held top position on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant for two years running and is currently recognised as No. 2 the 2021 list.
“We all had to ask ourselves how we could continue to extend the same hospitality in a manner that prioritised the safety of both guests and staff,” Royer continues, noting how many establishments pivoted their offering to take-out models, do-it-yourself kits and even meal box subscriptions.
“At a point when we were confronted with the limitations of our industry, with many of us having to rethink our business model overnight, we also found opportunities for creativity, leading to innovative projects from soup kitchens to virtual collaborations. It was great to see people come through to support local businesses.”
Affirming Singapore’s discerning diners, he also noted how fortunate the restaurant is to receive the support of the dining community, regulars and new guests seeking unique and alternative experiences as a celebration of life.
He adds: “I hope we’ll continue to see more chefs push the boundaries and redefine the gastronomic experience. Regardless of its form, the beauty of hospitality is rooted in a simple desire to bring joy to others.”
He also shares insights into navigating the new normal and making the most of unexpected opportunities.
(Related: Hong Kong-Based Chef Aven Lau on His Favourite Places to Eat in Singapore)
What Covid-19-related measures do you think are here to stay?
In an industry where so much of the experience hinges on social interaction, the well-being of guests and staff remains a top priority. Beyond the mandated safety measures, we installed Cerafusion technology to sterilise both air and surfaces naturally and provide each guest with personal antibacterial sanitisers and individual mask keepers. Safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing will remain the norm for a while so it’s important to be able to adapt the experience to these changes, keeping in mind the best interests of our guests and team without losing the essence of hospitality.
What unexpected opportunities arose from the pandemic for you?
When Singapore went into lockdown last year, F&B establishments were forced to close temporarily for dine-in. We had to rethink every aspect of the business and rolled out our delivery-takeaway model, Odette At Home—a selection of our favourite comfort specialties designed to be enjoyed at home. It allowed us to connect with a wider audience beyond the traditional space of our restaurant. We noticed an increased appetite for quality at-home experiences as consumers realised takeaway offerings could also be bespoke and refined. Initially, I was slightly sceptical about offering a delivery-takeaway model, but the response we received was incredible.
We had opportunities to explore collaborations beyond the usual formats—coming together with friends in the industry to curate a four-day gastronomic experience as part of the 50 Best ‘Bid for Recovery’ Auction and participating in a community initiative with Michelin Singapore, Food Bank Singapore and other F&B establishments to prepare 200 meal boxes for families in need. As chefs and restaurateurs, it’s always been our job to take care of people through good food and hospitality and I’m glad we were able to find new ways to continue doing so.
How did you make the most of the virtual space during the pandemic?
The virtual space opened us up to new and different ways of engaging with our guests. We launched an Instagram challenge as part of Odette At Home, inviting our followers to share their experience with us and it was a pleasure to know we were able to continue creating excitement for others even when apart. We participated in several virtual events including online talks with 50 Best and Les Grandes Table du Monde and hosted a webinar with Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Singapore for their students—it was a great way to stay connected with both the local and international community beyond our restaurant.
How did the pandemic impact our cooking and eating habits, whether at home or at the restaurant?
With people spending more time cooking at home, there is a growing consciousness towards sustainability and well-being, greater awareness of what we consume, where it comes from and the impact it has on our bodies and the environment. I think more people are starting to realise the value of quality of quantity.
What did you learn about yourself during these challenging times?
It’s definitely been eye-opening. When things change so drastically almost overnight, it forces you to take a step back and evaluate what’s important and for me, that was people—my family, my team and community. It was hard to see our friends and establishments affected around the world, but it also served as a reminder to find gratitude and small joys in everyday life. My team has played such a huge part in all of this, working hard throughout the lockdown constantly refining our takeaway-delivery offering and sticking it out when things were difficult. I set out with the intention of keeping my full team employed and I’m truly glad we succeeded.
How has the F&B industry in your region fared compared to elsewhere in the world?
We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to resume operations with restrictions in place and we are grateful for the strong support from our government. We’re a long way from fully returning to business as usual, but it’s wonderful to see Singaporeans dining out and the F&B scene gradually returning. No matter what, we must remain vigilant, the situation could change quickly, and we must be prepared for any future shocks.
How best do you think consumers can support the local F&B industry?
I hope we can encourage more consumers to support small and local businesses. Especially in Singapore where we rely very heavily on imports, most people are not aware that we do have a small number of local producers and we should support them where we can and foster a deeper understanding and respect for products.