Charm of Crêpe with Chef Nicolas Boutin
Continue with the joy and the warmth that the holiday season brings to us. La Chandeleur and Chinese New Year arrived and reminded us to take a break from work or school – just to share the laughter and blessings in your family! This time, we invited Chef Nicolas Boutin at ÉPURE, one of the high-quality restaurants with one MICHELIN star in Hong Kong, to share his memories in France with La Chandeleur.
Chef Boutin started his career in France, where he learned fundamental skills in notable restaurants such as Jardin de l’Opera (2 MICHELIN stars), Lameloise (3 MICHELIN stars) and Troisgros (3 MICHELIN stars). This culinary journey has shaped Chef Boutin to innovate outside the realms of French cuisine.
Chef Boutin’s impressive culinary career has taken him around the world, inspiring him to draw on his spirit of adventure to combine the use of pure, simple flavours with timeless ingredients that are light, seasonal, and healthy.
In 2013, Chef Boutin returned to Hong Kong to open ÉPURE. With his world-class credentials, culinary artistry, and love for simplicity, he offers ÉPURE’s guests an extraordinary dining experience. Despite the hardship under this year, ÉPURE won the recognition of one MICHELIN star in the five consecutive years.
FrenchGuide: How did you arrive in Hong Kong? What are your favorite things about this small city, Hong Kong?
Chef Nicolas Boutin: Before settling in Hong Kong, I travelled around Europe and worked overseas, including Dublin, Boston, Maldives, and French Polynesia. I wanted to learn from people in France, especially Michel Portos in Bordeaux at Le Saint–James who has two stars MICHELIN now, I really appreciated the time with him. He is a good friend of mine and I have learnt how to think out–of–the box and improve my creativity process.
After a culinary journey in France and Europe to refine my cuisine, then I wanted to learn more about management in luxury hotels, so the first experience was with Raffles Group and then I came to Hong Kong for two years, and that was my first time in Asia. After that, I had an opportunity to open the Mandarin Oriental in Boston for an executive role and gain experience in management skills.
I came back to Hong Kong and we started ÉPURE in 2013, so it has been 7 years and more. I like Hong Kong because we have the space to work on whatever we want, and we can focus on our own goals we want to reach. Also, Hong Kong is a convenient city to travel and get the tools for creating cuisine.
Congratulations to ÉPURE for being one of the high-quality restaurants in Hong Kong and part of thie MICHELIN star Chefs’ club, how does it feel? Is it an exciting challenge?
To be honest, the previous year was hard due to the social unrest and the pandemic. We need to maintain the cost, while keeping the consistency in our cuisine. Therefore, management is a challenge that we came through, but there could be more to face in the future. Still, we are happy to keep the standard and be awarded the MICHELIN star.
The challenge in keeping the standard in our cuisine is also to strike a balance between creativity, textures and tastes, cold and hot. Sometimes it can take a few months for a dish to be created and then we wait for customers’ feedback. My style is to keep it contemporary, clean, 1-2 flavours, 2-3 textures, and stick to the basics. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not, that is all about experience. My cuisine is part of a whole playful (‘ludique’) experience.
Since we know more about your story with Hong Kong and ÉPURE. We would love to hear about this joyful and family-friends celebration which is La Chandeleur.
What’s La Chandeleur for you? How did you celebrate with your family in France?
For me, La Chandeleur is a small reunion with family. I really love the beignet that my grandma used to bake. It is crispy and with a lot of sugar. My mom would make the usual crêpes, and we would eat them for a few days, warm or cold with sugar or jams. It is a celebration that every family in the neighbourhood would do at home, but it is not a huge gathering like Christmas or New Year.
Talking about dessert, it also reminds me of a lot of my childhood memories. One of my favourite desserts is ‘La Grimolle’,an apple clafoutis made by my grandmother. My aunt used to do ‘La Dacquoise’ which is a dessert with layers of hazelnut-almond meringues, spread with thick coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. I am fond of pastries and the Coffee Éclair is on my top 3.
Which is your favourite? Crêpes (sweet crêpes) or Galettes (savoury crêpes)?
Both are fine for me. For crêpes, I like sugar, jam, and Nutella filling, while I like galettes complètes – the classics with ham and eggs.
If you have to create crêpes with Hong Kong flavour to serve at ÉPURE, what would it be?
I would like to do a “Crêpe soufflé”. This idea is inspired by the time I worked in Troisgros. They serve trolleys of desserts, fruits and sorbets etc. and they would do a “Gateau de crêpes” – a cake with many layers and some fruits. We can transform it into a “Crêpe soufflé” so that when you cut it into half, the soufflé would look like a Mille-Feuille and you can get a savoury taste as well. For Hong Kong people, we can use chestnut along with the crêpe as well, and you can find good local chestnuts in Hong Kong.
Could you recommend us one sweet and one savoury signature dish to try at ÉPURE?
Our signature dish is the ‘Cévennes onion, black truffle’ with layers of truffle on each leaf of sweet French onion. It needs a technical precision and delicacy to reconstruct this modern yet fragile onion along with a fine crispy spelt. The second dish that I would recommend is our Paris mushroom soup. A popular one made using plenty of King Louis XIV’s favourite white button mushrooms, with little cream and absolutely no added water, a pronoun of authenticity and modernity.
For sweet dish, soufflé is always on our menu but with different flavours. Today, our new flavour is earl grey, while the 70% chocolate mousse topped with various berries would surprise you with a delicate texture and artistic design.
Through his creative and inspiring culinary journey, we could see how Chef Boutin stands with his simple and pure attitude towards his creation of cuisine. We would like to thank Chef Boutin for having us at ÉPURE and made this interview possible.
In this family-oriented festival, let’s enjoy the holiday like the French do, with good cuisine, nice wine and a touch of sweet!