CTExclusive: 9 Questions With French Star Chef Michel Christmann Who Calls India His Second Home

by Tejashee Kashyap
CTExclusive: 9 Questions With French Star Chef Michel Christmann Who Calls India His Second Home

One look at the dishes prepared by French star Chef Michel Christmann and your eyes are on a feast! The dishes play a harmonious blend of aesthetics, creativity, and culinary mastery. They become a canvas on which they tell a story, and evoke emotions, and a sense of wonder. For the word, Chef Christmann has the soul of a traveller at the core of his dishes. And it reflectsfrom France, and Russia to India along with working at some of the world’s exemplary restaurants, his dishes reflect the flavours and ingredients discovered throughout his travels.  “Travelling for a chef is a must. When I started to travel, I understood that food culture around the world is so large and interesting that I have to be humble and continue my learning journey. So I opened all my senses and took every idea and detail that I could find.”

Chef Michel Christmann On Bringing French Influences To Indian Food

Chef Michel Christmann
Credits: Press Release

Currently, Christmann has been spending time between India’s Pondicherry and France. Working at Michelin-starred restaurants in France, and opening up new ones in Russia, his quest to explore and discover the culinary world is palpable.

Recently at New Delhi’s Roseate House, the talented chef presented an elegant sit-down, 6-course wine dinner featuring a delicate fusion of French and Indian cuisine. The dinner menu brought a unique fusion of Indian and French cuisine. Imagine a moringa soup with spiced lentils cooked in curry leaves oil but paired with cumin foam, or a marinated tender seabass wrapped in kadaif noodles. “I’m from France and the French culture but a human is influenced by everything around him so today when I cook I just reflect on all of these experiences in my cuisine,” he explains.

Even though fusion-style prepared dishes are on the rise, it’s imperative to note how he can interlink two cuisines while keeping them distinct. “I grew up in France so my palate is French and I learned in French culinary school so my base and reflections are French. Initially, I worked and learned in France for many years. It helps me to build a strong base of skills and knowledge. When I cook even if I have different influences the French touch is always here and deep into me,” Chef Michel Christmann brings to notice. And that, indeed, could be well-received in his diverse and intriguing menu.

Whether it’s in savoury dishes or delectable desserts, the fusion of Indian and French cuisine is a delightful gastronomic adventure. Another key point of the exemplary dinner would be how the chef played out very well by pairing wine with Indian food. The complementary wine selections helped in highlighting the complex flavours and spices added in dishes like braised lamb, and grilled prawns. “I realised that spices and a certain level of spicy food can match well,” he reveals.

Well, we got a chance to catch up with the globe-trotting Chef Michel Christmann to talk about how travel influences his cooking styles, what interests him the most about Indian dishes and most importantly, making our country his other home.

1. Do you bring inspiration from your travels to your menus? How do you plan a food itinerary when you travel?

Yes for sure! It is a constant reflection during my travels to bring something special. Spices, oil, or condimentsI’m always looking to choose authentic tables to understand where I am. I also like to go for street food experiences. The last one was in Thailand and it was amazing.

2. You have worked at six Michelin Star restaurants in France. How has that experience been?

This was very important for my career to learn in such restaurants because you learn how to work with consistency, passion, and consciousness. It also gives strong skills and techniques. For sure it was a challenge as it is very hard and demanding but it helps a chef to build his career and the way he wants to cook.

3. France, then Russia and now, you are settled in Pondicherry with your restaurant. How would you describe the palate diversification and the food choices?

I learned a lot about guest profiles, their habits, and their culture. We need to understand them first before pretending to propose to them our cuisine. Each country has its moment for a new horizon… usually, it starts with Asian and Italian food then French cuisine comes step by step. It takes time to understand it but now people are looking more and more for experiences. But we always have to consider the local palate.

3. Was it difficult or any hardships you faced when creating the menus and attending these culturally diversified packs?

It is just more reflections. Need to be open-minded… and also patient. It is constant work, especially in India where you have a large food culture with different states, climates, and ingredients.

4. Talking about local produce and ingredients, which Indian one stands out for you and why?

The curry leaf. It was the first time I saw it when I came to India. I learned how Indians are using it, especially in the South, and then I thought about what to do with it!

5. And how do you portray it in your dishes?

Instead of frying it or adding it to gravies, I made a process to extract the colour and flavour as an oil and it is amazing. I’m now using it a lot to enhance my dishes. I love the flavour.

Chef Michel Christmann
Credits: Press Release

6. French are popular for their wine-food pairing. As a chef, what Indian dishes go well with wines?

It is not an easy question but I think some red wines like the ones from the south pair well. For example syrah or grenache grapes. Maybe a biryani can also match with these kinds of wines but I believe that the level of spices is important.

7. I have seen a lot of attention being given to plating when you prepare your dishes. How do you manage to do it so artistically? How does each element contribute to the final dish?

I’m choosing quality ingredients then I take care of the process and the very important taste. The aesthetic comes at the end but I give a lot of attention to it as it is the first thing that a guest sees and feels. It is also good to see how a chef’s hands can start from basic products to elegant dishes.

Also Read: CTExclusive: Chef Sashi Cheliah Talks Food To Us; Shares Fav Dish And Veggie He Finds Overrated

8. What is that Indian dish that you would love to recreate and how?

I worked on various Indian dishes these last 6 years and I like to think about the pani puri experience with new flavours and stuffing. I find it very interesting!

9. Lastly, what draws you towards the Indian food scene the most?

The large culture of food especially through street food and its variety and for sure, the spices! I believe that we can still explore a lot and the Indian cuisine could be shown in a new way by the new generations who learned French techniques and skills. It could be the right combination.

When it comes to Chef Michel Christmann, this fusion of food is a celebration of diversity and a testament to the creativity and innovation to push the boundaries of traditional culinary boundaries constantly.  And the marriage of these two culinary traditions truly results in an exceptional dining experience.

Cover image credits: Press release/Roseate Hotels