Hong Kong has no dearth of fine dining restaurants, and at three Michelin-starred Caprice in the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Guillaume Galliot, chef de cuisine, brings his vision of French cuisine, flavours of France dancing in unison with the tastes of the world, to life.
“I believe in finding prestige in even the most humble ingredients, transforming them into unforgettable dishes. My food is very straightforward and pure on the product. And now that I’ve lived in Asia for 18-19 years, every dish I do has a little twist of Asian. It comes naturally as I don’t force myself to add any Asian ingredient to my cooking,” says the chef. “I have a red mullet dish, which is traditionally served with mustard for a bit of kick. However, I serve it with wasabi. Not that I'm telling myself that I need to add something Japanese to it.”
Born in Chambray-Les-Tours in the Loire Valley, chef Galliot found his passion and wanderlust quite young. Working under the twin-brother chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel at the three Michelin-starred Jardin des Sens, chef Galliot expanded on his culinary school training, sharpening his skills while coming under the influence of the lighter touch of the Mediterranean. He joined Caprice in 2017 and speaks of his cuisine with passion.
Caprice signature dishes.
“My cuisine is about French technique and French elegance with a little bit of, I would say, a medium twist, a very light twist, of Asian. No-one can call it fusion, as it comes to me organically. Caprice has been one of my favourite French restaurants in Hong Kong even before I joined it. I went often when I lived in Macau. The restaurant is beautiful, with a great open kitchen and an amazing harbour view from the dining room.”
However, achieving and maintaining three Michelin stars goes beyond the interior of a restaurant and using good produce and wine. Caprice has achieved and maintained its stars for a good five years now, having been awarded three in 2019.
“Discipline, discipline, discipline. I have to be very demanding of myself, my staff and the products. One has to think at a higher level each time to be able to create more and more dishes and learn to be more disciplined as well. This is very important. If you think that everything is achieved already and you don’t have to prove anything anymore, that is when you will make mistakes,” says the chef, emphatically.
In and out of the kitchen, chef Galliot shows no signs of stress or discipline. He seems rather relaxed.
Chef Guillaume Galliot. (Photos © Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong)
“Achieving accolades year after year means that you get better and you get more assurance that you are getting better. But it is also because I have a strong team behind me. This is very important. It took me a long time to build the team, but now that’s done I feel a bit more relaxed. Also, I’ve never been a chef that shouts at people, anyway,” he laughs.
“At the end, when you know what you are doing, you know the plate, when you have your sauce and the perfect cooking, this kind of thing, people cannot say it’s bad or whatever. If they don’t like it, it is personal taste. You don’t create something bad because you have your technique and you select the right ingredient and have all the elements to make it good. This also makes you more comfortable and confident.”
Caviar plays an important role in most of chef Galliot’s dishes. He is also one of the few chefs who doesn’t use it just as a garnish, but actually features it by itself and is very generous with it too.
“I use caviar in some of my signature dishes, which helps to season the entire dish. Like in my crab salad dish at Caprice; it is finished with caviar, which enhances the saltiness of the crab. It brings more creaminess and richness to the dish. In another signature dish, the main elements are caviar and potato. That’s it. I use the caviar to bring the best out of the dish and not just so the dish looks good or to charge more. It has to make sense to the dish.”
Chef Galliot is partial to using Maison Kaviari because they make the best selection for him. “For the crab salad, I use Oscietra, and Kristal is for the potato dish because it has much more texture. The Oscietra is more crunchy, while the Kristal has slightly bigger eggs.”
If you’re not in Hong Kong, you can catch chef Galliot cooking on Nov 11-12 at St Chateau Yguem in Bordeaux.
“Inspiration comes mainly by travelling, talking with my team and working a lot in tandem with the seasons. I don’t use tomatoes all year long; I use them only during the summer. When you start with an ingredient on a white page and let your imagination run, things come naturally. By testing, trying and sharing with my three sous chefs, we reach the final dish that we want. Though I did not travel as much during Covid, when you eat in other restaurants, you are also inspired by interesting things. Then you enter your kitchen the next day and you work on something that you think is better than what you have seen before,” explains the chef.
Being in Hong Kong during Covid did not stop the chef from gaining access to products.
“We had a lot of produce coming via the sea but nobody to buy it because restaurants were closed. Hong Kong was one of the few places in Asia where the restaurant business continued to work and be successful. We had access to products that were better than usual," he says.
“Covid also gave us plenty of time to create more dishes and spend time developing them with my team. Usually, you spend only two or three months with your team before you go on to promotion. So, during the Covid years, we spent a lot of time on our recipes, sharing a lot of information and working faster on ideas. It was a positive thing for our kitchen at Caprice.”
What inspires chef Galliot’s main thought process when it comes to any dish is seasonality.
“Like the tomato, we order local tomatoes or Japanese tomatoes to work on before European tomatoes come into season. At Caprice, I use tomatoes from my mother’s garden in France. During peak season, my mother can grow around 20-25kg a week! The season starts usually in mid-July until the end of September. At Caprice, we don’t usually like to put on the same dish as last year, especially if it’s like a tomato dish. We always have to come up with new things, though there are people who ask for the same dishes,” says the chef.
Most of chef Galliot's dishes are inspired by and even use products from his hometown. Much like the tomato, pigeon is also sourced from his hometown.
“I was talking with a guy from where I source pigeons and said I missed the tomatoes from my garden. He obliged by packing the pigeon and the tomatoes in one order and it started from there. I come from a game area in France so during the season a lot of game is also sourced from there,” he says.
If you know French chefs and French cooking, then you’ll know it’s all about the sauce. But, what is it about the sauce exactly?
“It is the connection to the dish, to the ingredient and it is one of the most important elements of the dish. It is not only my focus but also the diners’ focus. It is what connects all the elements on the dish, for me and for the diners,” chef Galliot explains.
His signature potato and caviar is a prime example of this. The dish uses a fish bone broth for the sauce, which is a Champagne sauce.
“It is a very elegant fish taste, which the dish needs. A Champagne that is too fruity cannot be used. This dish is available at Caprice at all times. Though not on the menu, a lot of returning customers always request it. The dish also uses Charlotte potatoes.”
Chef Galliot’s signature dishes have evolved, along with him, over time. “Your signature dishes get better and better because your palate gets better. When you work in a restaurant every day, you get the energy of that restaurant. That plays a part in the creation of your dishes. Your dishes have to reflect the decor of the restaurant you’re in, too. You have to know where you cook and your dishes always evolve with the place that you are cooking in.”
A chef who thrives under pressure, chef Galliot says working in a fine dining environment and being at a three Michelin-star level is what he needs to keep going. “That’s what I like and what I need, as a goal.”