As a part of its Rendezvous series, The Chambers, the exclusive business club at Taj Hotels presented a Rendezvouswith Michelin Star Chef Yves Mattagneat The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and Taj Mahal, New Delhi. An immersive culinary soiree showcased signature flavours from La Villa Lorraine, Belgium, paired with a handpicked selection of beverages. We caught up with the chef about his star-studded culinary journey.
Chef Yves Mattagne has had the most unconventional journey so far in his four-decade-long career. Yves Mattagne specialises in exquisite seafood presentations, contemporary world cuisine and eclectic gastronomical experiences. His unconventional journey began when he finished school. He had two passions – sports and cooking. He decided to take up the latter in his career span of more than three decades which has not had one repetitive day! As opposed to most chefs of his stature, Mattagne never went to a cooking class. He started learning on the job and has worked his way up. He began working at a renowned international hospitality group in Brussels following his military service with the Belgian navy in 1963. After a two-year stint in London, when he returned
to Belgium, he assisted famous Belgian chef Michel Beyls at “l’Orangerie”. This was followed by an eight-month-long training at “Le Divellec” in Paris, where he trained for the opening of the Sea Grill in January 1990. Here, Mattagne was awarded his first Michelin star in 1991, followed by a second one in 1997. By 2010, he became the owner of the Sea Grill. The Sea Grill maintained
its 2 stars until it closed its doors in December 2019, before the chef relocated to the Villa Lorraine in Uccle, Belgium. In 2020, the chef opened the La Villa Lorraine restaurant and lounge bar, a combination of fine casual and slow dining.
Going by the exquisitely curated menu that we tasted, Chef Mattagne’s understanding of flavours and use of cooking techniques is exemplary. Each dish came with highly specialised components such as Hirame oyster maki, Dauricus caviar, Granny hazelnut, dill; Hamachi cherry, yuzu ice cream, wasabi, zist; smoked eel and white eggplant; jumbo prawns flamed with single malt and delectable vegetarian creations such as burned avocado with coconut milk, fermented jalapeños, red shiso, cucumber; white asparagus, smoked ratte potato butter, ‘terre végétale’ with truffle, parsley chlorophyll and kimchi coal, Hardy pear parmesan, combava, dill; sand carrots and so on.
But just as no single dish characterises his style of cooking, it’s also not easy for him to pick a favourite restaurant or foodie destination to satiate his culinary cravings. “When I visit a country, I like to visit the local restaurants to get the real flavour, understand the local ingredients and spices,” he says.
During the last three decades since he earned his first Michelin star, Mattagne has seen quite a transformation in the Michelin style as well. While the quality of food, presentation and service has to be top-notch, an element of fun is now more visible so that the dining experience is not too stiff. In keeping with the slightly relaxed vibe that Michelin is now making room for, at the Bar Lounge at La Villa Lorraine, guests are served sharing platters and encouraged to eat with their hands.
And this relaxed vibe is what we enjoyed at The Chambers in Delhi. After concluding a long lunch service where he plated every dish himself and interacted with the guests while pouring a jus or broth to complete the dish, Mattagne came across as extremely affable and went on to answer our questions most patiently and with a smile. This trait is especially notable since many highly acclaimed chefs are known to up the heat and create ‘hell’ in the kitchen. But Mattagne’s easygoing personality is not reserved just for the guests, even his kitchen staff is treated well. “We need to talk nicely to the young staff if we want them to stick on. We also need to recognize their need for more time for themselves,” he elucidates on the changing practices behind the scene.
Talking of food trends, an important one is sustainability in the kitchen. In fact, it’s not even a trend, it’s just the need of the hour. Chef Mattagne is very candid about it. “Seasonal produce is the basis of our cooking. It’s what makes a dish fresh. As chefs, we have to respect the seasons and cook accordingly. But with climatic changes due to global warming even the availability of produce has changed. But Belgium is very small and we have only a limited variety of produce, so we have no choice but to use imported products as and when they’re required,” he explains. “We use minimal plastic and paper and make sure that is disposed off appropriately. Besides this, no peel goes in the bin. Each part of the vegetable is used, even if not in the restaurant’s dishes then in the staff meals,” he adds. In keeping with seasonality, the menu at La Villa Lorraine is changed eight to ten times within one year. While this is a sustainable practice, it also keeps repeat guests happy with new and fresh offerings.
While Mattagne continues helming the kitchens and works as a consultant in various countries, one of his newest ventures is with his son, Sébastien, and two more partners. Gaufres & Waffles is a chain that offers authentic savoury and sweet Brussels waffles. “It is a Belgian product, and we intend to keep it that way,” he says. Even though the waffles are kept traditional, their design is special. Each waffle has six big squares, with higher than usual walls to hold the variety of fillings on offer. We are told that the team has patented these waffle machines. Chef Mattagne hinted that there may be some talks on introducing these delicious waffles in India as well. Going by the delectable pictures on their social media, we cannot wait. (We will keep you posted about the developments.)
Finally, Chef Yves Mattagne’s advice to young chefs aspiring for the much-coveted Michelin star is: “Make what you want, serve your passion!”