Swissotel Krasnye Holmy worked with a concept artist to develop a distinctive in-house scent, which executives are calling the chain’s new corporate smell. But there’s another scent at Swissotel, and it’s emanating from the kitchen of executive chef Jean-Michel Hardouin-Atlan. Passport caught up with him to find out what’s cooking.
Text M. Rosaria Boccuni
Photos Sergey Koshkin
Where are you from?
I’m from France, from the Loire Valley, which is 150 kilometers west of Paris. It is a region of castles and vineyards, and it is very green. I was born in the small village of Chateaudun.
To what extent does the food of your country influence your cuisine?
France exerts a strong influence on my spiritual feeling about food especially, and this was especially true during my first years as a chef. Later on, my personal experience with cuisine began to expand as a result of my travels. I was able to use my knowledge of French cuisine as a basis for my creativity while cooking for audiences from different cultures and with tastes.
Where did your travels take you?
I’ve worked in many countries. I began in 1984 in Hong Kong, where I stayed for two years. Then I went to London, where I worked for one year. After that, I spent five years in Macao. Eventually, I felt it was time to move on, and I went to the Middle East. It was my first experience there, and I stayed in the Sultanate of Oman for five years. Then I moved to the Mauritius Islands for three years. My last experience before Moscow was in Lebanon, where I stayed eight years. I have been in Moscow now for about seven months.
Why did you decide to come to Moscow?
It was a coincidence. I was living in Beirut and I was very happy. Unfortunately, when the war started in 2006, it put my family in danger, and I had no alternative but to leave. I went back to France for several months and then an opportunity came up: Moscow! At the beginning, I was not excited, but now I’m very happy. It is a great place, except for the weather. I’m from the Mediterranean, where the sun shines 300 days a year. Here it’s the opposite: The sun is out about 60 days a year. But apart from that, here in Moscow business is really good. People love to go out and spend a lot of money ... with is a contrast with the Middle East. Here people like the opportunity to see new things, try new food, and discover new restaurants. I think this is great.
When did you begin to think to becoming a chef?
I was about 15. In my home, during my chilhood, my mom always cooked. I guess it was from that time, because in my family no one is a chef and neither of my two sons wants to be one — they see the time and the effort this profession requires, and they are not willing to do it. But I remember my mother cooking with fresh produce from our garden. I liked it very much. At the beginning I intended to study pastry because I love sweets. But then when I thought in terms of personal growth and development, I decided to become a chef to travel and to get more experience. I did an apprenticeship in 1976 for four years and then I spent my first years as a chef in Switzerland.
What are the basic elements in your recipes?
I do not have specific elements. From my environment and points of interest, my ideas are a combination of knowledge, observation, and common practice in the basic elements of the culinary arts.
What is your philosophy of food?
My philosophy of food is based on some fundamental laws: In gastronomy the choice of ingredients is essential, and the key to success is to work with simple ingredients.
What is your favorite recipe?
Roasted farm chicken with garlic, potatoes, and duck fat — it evokes childhood memories! Today, we usually eat bad food. Everything is fake and has no taste. The elements are gone. So when I go back home — I come from a small village — I use vegetables grown in the garden and I go to a farm where I can buy chicken, ducks, and geese. And this is what I had when I was very, very young, when the chickens used to forage outside. They don’t do that anymore, and you feel that they don’t have any flavor.
Today, if you want to use quality products, it is very expensive. Even things that are very simple are very expensive, and it is without justification. For me, what is important is the source and quality of the products you have to work with. Nothing else. Choose the right things and you cook well. If you don’t start with good products, I don’t think the cuisine will have any flavor. In cooking, you don’t have to use too many spices and ingredients. You have to choose four or five elements, get the best possible quality, and cook. The best olive oil and the best mozzarella and wines, for example.
I’m very attached to my origins and my country, especially when it concerns the ingredients I use. I hate going to the supermarket. I prefer to go to small shops where I can buy better food. Now, I’m looking to go back to France just to get a simple chicken.
Where do you buy your ingredients? Do you have difficulty finding what you need in Moscow?
Mostly from Europe, Paris in particular, flown in fresh twice a week. We don’t have difficulty finding products here in Moscow, it’s only that the procedure of actually getting them is complicated.
Do you see a big difference between Russian clients and others? In taste, for example?
Tartine of sourdough bread topped with capsicums, feta cheese, crayfish, and crustacean oil.
Not so much in taste. What I can see here in Moscow is that Italian and Japanese cuisine is very popular. But here Japanese means sushi. I think that Japanese food is gaining in popularity not only in Russia but in other parts of the world as well. People are more interested in lighter food, and sushi gives this opportunity. And rice with raw fish is very healthy. As to Italian, I think that there are only a few good Italian restaurants in Moscow. When people think of Italian food, they think of pizza and pasta, and most of the time these are not done properly.
I don’t see many Chinese and other Asian restaurants well-represented here. And French cuisine is more about contemporary food. In France we have so many differences, region by region, variety from north to south and east to west. The culture is so broad. It is a big question when you see a French restaurant. We have thousands of recipes. Even people that travel from the north to the south of France find a great difference. For example, in the south we are very close to Italian cuisine, we use fresh herbs and olive oil like in Italy. In contrast, if you go to the north, you find butter and cream, while in the west we use goose fat confits, which, personally, is what I like. I love fois gras, the way it is prepared is very healthy, actually ... contrary to what people think.
What do you think about nouvelle cuisine?
It is a gastronomic voyage and a discovery of the association of elements.
Do you find a change in these last years in the evolution of cuisine?
I think we have seen an evolution in cuisine that in many ways goes back to our roots. Chefs in general are more sensitive with the product origin and the way products are grown ... at least this is the way I feel.
What is your favorite dinner that you can suggest to your clients?
I do not have a favorite dinner although I like risotto and pasta. I also like the cuisine of the southwest of France and Lebanese food, in particular mezzes.
Has anything ever happened to you that was particularly bad or funny during your experience as a chef?
I have traveled so much that it is difficult for me to remember, but I want to tell you when I ate my first snake. A trip to China. The Chinese eat everything ... I had to taste some snake. A real, live snake. After the cooking, if you don’t know, you may think it is chicken. The same thing with dogs. If you don’t know, you can eat dog, but if you know ... at least for me after I knew, it was pretty terrible.
These were the things that were probably the most unsettling in my career. For the rest it has been a lot more about experience, discovering, traveling, and learning about different cultures, peoples and their lives.
Fillet of Sea Bass
with an anchovy parmentier and tomato fondue in licorice sauce
Ingredients (serves six)
8 fillets of sea bass (150g each)
500 ml fish stock
3 large potatoes (peeled and diced)
3 salted anchovies (washed)
juice of half a lemon
500ml fish stock
1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. licorice paste
500g tomatoes (seeded and chopped)
1/2 Spanish onion (peeled and chopped)
50 ml sherry vinegar
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp. tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 tbs. brown sugar
100 ml olive oil seasoning
For The Parmentier
Cook the potatoes gently in the fish stock. Add the anchovies and lemon juice. When the potatoes are cooked, blend to a puree. Pass through a fine sieve, season with white pepper.
For The Sauce
Bring the fish stock to a boil. Add the parsley (stalks removed) and place in a blender. Blend to a puree, add the licorice paste and pass through a fine sieve. Using a handheld blender, whisk in the butter to make a froth and season.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and sweat the onions over a gentle heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic cloves, chopped tomatoes, and tomato puree and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar, brown sugar, and fresh thyme. Cook slowly until all the liquid has evaporated. Season to taste.
Pan fry the sea bass fillets, skin side down, until golden brown and crisp. Turn over and place in a moderate oven (180o C) to finish cooking (1-2 minutes). Place 2 spoonfuls of anchovy parmentier in the middle of the soup bowls. Sit the sea bass on top and place a spoonful of tomato fondue over the fish. Froth up the sauce with the handheld blender, spoon the bubbles around the parmentier, and serve.