The Adeline Grattard episode of Chef’s Table explores the career of a chef who surprised the Parisian dining scene by serving a seamless fusion of French and Chinese cuisines. Instead of using recipes, she cooks based on instinct and a desire for personal expression. And unlike many of the chefs featured on this series, Grattard found success pretty much as soon as she swung open the doors to her restaurant.
Who is Adeline Grattard?
Adeline Grattard is the chef and co-owner of Yam’Tcha, a small fine dining restaurant in Paris where she prepares seasonal French ingredients using Chinese techniques. Her husband Chi Wah manages the restaurant and its tea service. The duo also operates a takeaway shop specializing in tea and dim sum. One of Grattard’s signature dishes is a bao stuffed with stilton cheese, which she says is “the story of our lives, because it combines France and Hong Kong.” Yam’Tcha currently holds one Michelin star.
What was Grattard’s journey through the culinary world like?
Her parents grew produce in their own garden in Dijon, and experimenting with various ingredients was one of her favorite pastimes as a child. “That’s where I learned to be a gourmand and how to appreciate different flavors,” Grattard remembers. Adeline went to culinary school and later got a job working with chef Pascal Barbot at his acclaimed Parisian restaurant Astrannce, which served French food with an Asian influence. Although she learned a lot on the job, Grattard says she “didn’t feel ready to have her own interpretations” of food at that point.
Feeling the urge to travel and gain some additional culinary experience, Grattard set her sights on China, and her husband supported this plan. She moved to Hong Kong and, despite the language barrier, began cooking in a restaurant alongside Chinese chefs. Wah eventually joined her in Hong Kong, and together they explored the local culinary scene. “In that period, I was preparing for Yam’Tcha,” Grattard says.
What was her “aha” moment?
After two years, Grattard and Wah moved back to Paris and started building a restaurant. The chef felt overwhelmed by the opening, and her anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that buzz was started to build around town even before opening night. As fate would have it, Grattard spotted famed critic François Simon walking into her restaurant during their very first service. She was extremely nervous, but managed to pull herself together and prepare an improvised meal that wowed the critic. Shortly after that fateful night, the accolades started rolling in. “I don’t know how the stars aligned so well for us, but it just happened,” she says.
What are some of Grattard’s notable quotes from this episode?
On her style of shoot-from-the-hip cooking: “Before anything, Yam’Tcha is a cuisine driven by love and emotion. I don’t have any written recipes. I don’t write anything down. I think it’s not as spontaneous if you do. If the staff gets fixated on the recipes, it freezes things. They try and be too exact. They don’t work with as much heart. We never weigh the sauces. We always make them instinctively. It changes all the time.”
On the decision to leave France for Hong Kong: “I wanted a little bit of violence. The fire, the steam, the work, I knew that was the style of Chinese cuisine. So I left.”
On cooking for the critic on her opening night: “I gave what I felt was inside me. It’s the things that moved me, that I liked, that came out. It was a mixture of all the flavors I loved between France and China. It gave me tremendous strength. Enough to lift a mountain.”
On the success of Yam’Tcha: “Now I can feel that a cuisine reflects what you have inside of you. It’s an expression of your inner life. I didn’t feel that before. It’s really about giving something from the heart, and giving something from your personality. It created in me a unity in cuisine that is very personal. And so what came out is us. It’s a love story between France and Hong Kong. It’s the story of our lives. That’s Yam’Tcha.”