Irfan Aziz chats with the charismatic executive chef of InterContinental Dhaka, Jerome Daviau
I had one of the best pastry experiences of my life the other day at the InterContinental Dhaka. The man responsible for this was their new executive chef, Jerome Daviau. Described by their general manager as the “superstar” who will take InterContinental to heights they have never experienced before, Jerome brings over 30 years of experience from across the world to the table. More importantly Jerome brings with him an abundance of positive energy. His charismatic personality and his general upbeat outlook towards life will lift up anyone’s mood. It was an absolute delight to be able to chat with him about his life, food and his vision for the future.
How are you liking Dhaka so far? Tell our readers a bit about your journey.
Dhaka has been nothing but amazing for me so far. I am not only saying this because it’s my current place of work either. I have worked in many countries and in comparison Dhaka is turning out to be one of my best experiences. The people have been amazing, the hospitality has been incredible, of course there is the issue of traffic but considering how much I have been enjoying myself over the last couple of months, that can be overlooked. As for my career, I was born in France and I studied hospitality for three years and got my certificate. I immediately started working in a French based international restaurant and I spent 12 years there starting out as a commis and eventually making my way to becoming their executive sous chef. But then I decided it was time to explore other places. I made my way to the southern part of France where I oversaw the opening of Holiday Inn and then I worked in Paris which was a nice experience. Afterwards I decided to take my first international post in West Africa with InterContinental. From there I ventured to East Africa and also the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and then Doha. My journey has allowed me to experience different cultures and meet different people and here I am now in Dhaka getting to experience it again.
Being the executive chef means that you have to be proficient in a multitude of different cuisines. Which categories do you enjoy working with the most?
I was born close to the sea in France so I simply love fish. Seafood is my favourite to cook and to eat. On top of that my wife is Asian so I have grown an interest towards Asian cuisine as well. The beauty of both of these cuisines is the fact that you can do a lot of fusion with them and create newer things. And Bangladesh has a wide variety of fish with amazing texture that I can work with. Another thing that has simply blown me away since I have arrived in Bangladesh is your mangoes. I can say that you have the best mangoes in the world and I have been experimenting with them a lot and trying to implement them into our desserts as much as possible. See, I don’t take my job as a job, it is more of a passion for me and having so many ingredients to work with truly makes me happy and I find myself waking up with a smile every morning.
Every country has its own set of challenges but do you find any similar patterns among them? What is your mantra to successfully tackling them?
Challenges come in different shapes and sizes but if you can master two things, you can pretty much overcome them all. The first is being able to understand people – be it the people you work with or the people whose needs you cater to. The second one being humble and open minded about everything. It is extremely important to develop both of these qualities. I am very open with my chefs and right now I am operating alongside them in a more student-like capacity as they understand local ingredients better. That was one of the initial challenges I faced, trying to grasp the availability of products. But through teamwork I have vastly expanded my knowledge over the past couple of weeks. I have developed a very strong bond with my team. We prepare together, cook together, taste together and learn together. That is my mantra and it is a continuous process. Feeding someone is not an easy task so we work tirelessly to improve our products whether its improving the taste or maintaining the quality. You must remember that no matter how good you get, you will never be able to satisfy peoples’ appetites as well as their mothers can. They are the best chefs. So it is important to be humble, maintain quality and respect the product.
The general manager described you as the superstar who will transform InterContinental Dhaka. How are you planning to live up to these expectations?
Right now I am focusing on the launch of our fine dining restaurant called the Amber Room. I believe it will provide Dhaka with a dining experience like no other. Other than that I am also focusing on increasing my understanding about local ingredients and cooking techniques so that I can add an air of familiarity to the dishes we make. For example, I have been tinkering with wooden stoves and the results have been absolutely breathtaking so far. I have also been trying to master a new cooking technique called the “Vacuum Technique” which is a revolutionary technique that utilises an oven and a bag. The technique is highly efficient, hygienic and cost effective but that’s not the reason why I am trying to implement it. It adds an extremely rich texture to your food and greatly enhances the taste and stimulate the senses. I believe no other place is offering this and I am very excited to introduce this to Dhaka.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Follow your heart and do what you love. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have an open mind and venture off to unfamiliar territory and try out unfamiliar things. Venture out to other countries and bring back home the culture, the techniques and the experiences and add your own little touch to it. It is the joy that matters at the end of the day so do not be too concerned about what place you end up working in or what title or post you end up earning. Feeding people is one of the toughest things on earth and to be able to successfully do that on a regular basis is one of the most satisfying accomplishments ever.