Chef Spotlight: Romain Avril (@chefromainavril)
Trained in France from an early age, Chef Romain Avril applies his world-class culinary skills to teaching gourmet cooking in an approachable style. Though he’s not a vegan, his passion for the healing power of food has inspired him to work on a mostly vegetable-based cookbook. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his favorite new recipe, why he hates shortcuts, and his advice for cooks just starting out.
How did you get started with cooking?
I was born and raised in France and started cooking at an early age. I went to a summer camp around 13 years old, but wanted to go to cooking school instead. It was a lot of tennis and horseback riding, but I just wanted to be with the people who were cooking.
I was horrible at it, but I was driven towards it. In France, education is a little different. After high school, you can go to professional school to teach you job skills. I studied for about seven years all the way until I got my degree at 21 years old.
Tell me about your approach. What’s your unique style?
I was doing French classic (Michelin) and did my degree in Chinese gastronomy. What really got me was the philosophy of healing with food. I worked a lot at the molecular level, got a lot of cooking Asian food with a French influence under my belt. I care more about sustainable eating in balance with the planet. Vegan cooking, even though I’m not a vegan.
I altered my diet around that. People should start to reduce the amount of animal protein they're eating. I’m doing a cookbook around sustainable eating and plant-based recipes. The approach isn’t exclusively vegan, but with an emphasis on it.
It’s a safer approach to veganism with a variety of meals and dishes. I feel like the issue has been either / or, but how about both? I still eat meat, but it’s high quality, less often, and from a small farm. The animals are well cared for and so is the land.
Do you have a favorite new recipe discovery?
I’m the guy who floats with the seasons, and we’re in squash season. A client asked for something with apples, so I made a pie with a short crust and a crumble with caramelized apple and salted caramel. It turned out incredible. I did it again and made a video about it.
What’s your best kitchen hack?
You create shortcuts by perfecting your craft. It used to take me a half hour to cut a bunch of chives perfectly, now it takes me a few minutes. Doing something over and over makes it go faster. Just practicing you find your own shortcuts. In general, I’m not a fan of shortcuts or cutting corners.
I see your Insta feed is full of stylish shots in fancy clothes. Is modeling a side gig for you?
I’m lucky that I have a few photographer friends, so I create fun content with their help. I’m not just a chef, I want to show another side. I’ve been modeling these cool outfits, and brands are approaching me to wear their clothes. I’m breaking the stigma that chefs have cold personalities and stay in the kitchen all day. It’s a new generation. We have lives. We’re approachable and personable.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
I absolutely despise carraway. For the life of me, I cannot stand that flavor. Just the smell of it is repulsive.
What are your kitchen tools you can’t live without?
In terms of knives, I use three the most. Mostly my Shogun Paring Knife and Shogun Chef Knife. You get seventy percent of the job done with those. The other is the bread knife. People don't appreciate a good break knife, but lower quality will screw up what you slice.
Surprisingly, the bread knife is my favorite Dalstrong knife. I believe that every job has its knife, but if you can’t afford all of them, these are the three you need. Design is very important.
The same way you look at anything for design quality, you should look the same way at your knives. Also durability and weight. It’s very important to me, the weight. I don’t like them too heavy, the Shogun series is just enough. They’re very comfortable. What I put my hands on has to be flawless. Beyond that, I love my Thermomix for pastries and baking.
Who are your cooking heroes?
A French chef named Thierry Marx. I’ve been following him for awhile. He is one of the first French chefs to get away from the “French is the best” mentality. He looked outside of the box. We’ve been surpassed by more modern cultures. He has an interesting take on molecular, I really like him.
And Gordon Ramsay. I appreciate his business approach. I feel like he nailed the 50 / 50 kitchen and camera thing. I’m trying to achieve that and have fun with both. I admire what he's done. I didn’t really like him until I realized how hard it was. Now that I’m doing it, it’s “Wow, ok, now I get it.” Ever since I’ve been a fan.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?
I’m a big fan of sports, obsessed with stats. I would be in the sports world as an analyst and commentator.
If you could cook a meal for anyone, who would it be?
I would say my parents. I don't get to see them since I left France when I was 21-years-old. I only go back once a year. So I’d like to cook for my family. They haven’t enjoyed my growth as a chef over this time.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
How people try to make cheeseburger fancy. It should just be a smashed burger with tomato, lettuce, and a good bun. Also eggs, no one can seem to make good eggs. It’s so simple.
Looks like a sponge or crispy to hell. I always tell chefs to nail the basics first. Before you try X, try a steak. Know how to touch and taste then branch to different types of cuisines and methods.
What is the mark of a great chef?
Your being, the way you are in the kitchen. I’ve had bad experiences growing up in kitchens with abuse. A great chef is a mentor. No need to yell. With twenty years of cooking, you can’t expect someone to know what you know. Have patience, this person wants to learn, too.
Do you have any advice for chefs just starting out or home cooks who want to up their game?
Don't overcomplicate. Start simple and grow with your knife, grow with your technique. With sauce, make it simple, then build from there. Build your confidence. I made a chocolate souffle the other night and used a hand mixer and it didn’t get fluffy. I got so mad.
When you’re in that mindset, throw it away, take a deep breath, and start again. Learn from a pro, watch videos, soak it up, try to replicate. Even me, I have no shame to ask a peer for help. The bottom line is we’re learning every day.
What would your last meal be?
Wow. It would involve bread for sure. There’s a shellfish I love called langoustines. It’s a sweet prawn, like a mini-lobster. Reminds me of my grandparents and my family. I’d eat pounds of that with homemade mayonnaise and a baguette.
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Written by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.