Jacques Reymond: A perfect blend

When Jacques Reymond realised his dream of opening his own restaurant in an elegant Melbourne mansion, he was free to evolve and develop his own cooking style. Jacklyn Lloyd discusses his influences from the past

Born in France in the small village of Cuiseaux, about 100km from Lyon, Reymond’s parents had a hotel/restaurant. This made him familiar with professional kitchens from a very young age. From there he went on to work all over the globe and continues to consult in restaurants worldwide today.

He followed his dream to work in Australia. For years, every time Reymond and his wife drove past an old, romantic, Victorian mansion at 78 Williams Road, Melbourne, which was then known as Allisons, he would say: “One day my restaurant will be in this building.” Eventually he opened his eponymous restaurant there and it became an institution for more than 20 years. His years of experience of working in both Brazil and Spain inspired Reymond to combine flavours from these countries – along with the Asian and Pacific ingredients commonly used in Australia – to develop his own unique style using French techniques. His cooking technique evolved “from traditional French to highly individual” – a style that has stood the test of time. “Our cuisine was (and continues to be) individual and personal; a fusion, not a confusion,” he says.

Reymond’s inspiration was apparent in the restaurant’s décor. In the main room, crisp white linen and sparkling dinnerware set a romantic scene for couples dining on beautifully-plated dishes. While the Mandarin room, simple in its design, featured oriental, rich reds juxtaposed with elegant table settings – blending Asian and French influences. When designing the kitchen at Jacques Reymond the equipment wasn’t the most important consideration. “It’s more about the quality of the products and the selection of suppliers; the skills of the staff. I invested in this more than equipment,” notes Reymond. That investment paid off in 2011 when the Restaurant and Catering Association in Victoria awarded Reymond the Lifetime Achievement Award. His restaurant went on to win Best Restaurant and Best Fine Dining in Victoria for 2013/14. The venue was also part of the prestigious Relais and Châteaux in France that celebrates the culinary arts in hospitality.

Making changes

After turning 60 in 2013 Reymond decided he couldn’t carry on working 15-hour days in the kitchen, neither could he be a chef whose name was over the door but not in the kitchen. In January 2014 he handed over his famous restaurant to his sous chefs, Thamas Woods and Hayden McFarland, who reopened the building as Woodland House. Meanwhile, Reymond was still fired up to work on new projects with his wife Kathy and their children Nathalie, Edouard and Antoine.

Reymond’s children now run his other venues, L’Hôtel Gitan, which opened in 2014, and Bistro Gitan, both of which he consults for. “It is like an orchestra where the composer of the music is not the one who plays it,” Reymond says, going on to explain that he develops the menus, but doesn’t necessarily execute the dishes. When opening L’Hôtel Gitan the restaurant was pitched as family-friendly. The result is a casual but sophisticated venue that offers a comforting bistro style menu. “L’Hotel Gitan is much more contemporary than Bistro Gitan, which is reinvented bistro pub food,” Reymond explains. Inside, black and white brick walls celebrate the building’s Art Deco roots, while cushioned banquettes, an open kitchen and long bar entice guests to stay and indulge. Overall the décor plays to both a pub and bistro-style menu – a unique mish-mash of themes.

Reymond was involved in the design of L’Hôtel Gitan. “I designed the kitchen concept and left my children to express their desires to the architects, SJB Interior Designers, who have worked with us previously on two restaurants.” Plans for  the kitchen were based on the equipment he needed and where each piece should go to create a kitchen that “was practical and suited the venue to make it both a functional and practical space to work in, as well as a little theatrical.”

Chef’s perspective

Reymond feels it’s important to be involved in the design of his kitchens. “Only a chef will know if it’s a rational, functional and friendly space for the chefs to work in.” For him the most important feature in a kitchen is simply “an oven and good extraction system. I’m very positive about new technology. It improves quality, hygiene and better results,” he continues. “I will always be open to new equipment, but some cooking techniques will still be better doing them the old way.”

While French cooking often praises old-school cooking techniques, the technology that Reymond does use are his Thermo mix, paco jet, combi ovens, microplane, Roband rotors and an icecream machine. “These are all an essential part of a kitchen today, it helps ease the manual workload,” he says. When it comes to design, unlike the contemporary affair at L’Hôtel Gitan, Bistro Gitan offers French-Spanish bistro-style food with understated décor featuring wooden finishes to create an inviting European feel. “The décor and cuisine at Bistro Gitan is traditional French and it’s high quality.” In addition to his work at L’Hôtel Gitan and Bistro Gitan, Reymond also consults for a brand called dish’d, which he describes as “a high quality frozen food home delivery service”. He’s also working with the kitchen staff at luxury resorts in Turtle Island and Nanuku in Fiji. Reymond has an encouraging approach.

“Always look forward, be positive and optimistic and give your staff a lot of motivation through continually learning and enjoying the performance,” he says. Each day Reymond’s ultimate goal in life is undoubtedly being achieved. “To keep my family united and see they’re following in our footsteps and have our full support and love.” To see his children achieve great success at both L’Hôtel Gitan and Bistro Gitan is wonderful. “I’ve learnt that if you stay humble and keep a family spirit throughout your business, you’ll love to go to work every day and enjoy being there.

Jacklyn Lloyd


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