Everybody loves Reymond

At age 11, Jacques Reymond was exposed to coffee, but not in the way many Australians know it. Rather than fond memories of drinking instant dried granules, bialetti coffee boiling on the stovetop, or a golden espresso dripping from a spout, Jacques recalls his first exposure to caffeine in the form of a liqueur. 

“In the village where I grew up in the Burgundy region of France, there wasn’t much good coffee, just good wine,” Jacques says. “Everybody would have a coffee after lunch and always with marc [also known as Pomace brandy], a very strong type of distilled liquor spirit. It’s a pure extract of grape stems. Once you press grapes for wine production, you ferment the stems and obtain a very strong 70 per cent alcohol. I was too young too drink it but we served marc at my parent’s small café in the village, and many of our customers would pour the drink into their short black.”

There is no legal age requirement to drink coffee, so when Jacques started his professional career at age 14 working in his parent’s kitchen at Hotel du Nord in Cuiseaux, he had his first taste.

“Coffee was the first thing I drank when I started a shift in the kitchen,” Jacques says. “Chefs used to drink lots of coffee to give them energy. The mentality is still the same today but most chefs don’t work 16-hour shifts like I used to, so the consumption of coffee in our industry has dropped, but overall I think consumption has increased. Melbourne has a bit of an obsession with coffee. Every street you look down, someone is walking with a coffee in their hands.”

As for Jacques, he prefers to savour his one coffee for the day at home. Each morning he makes a short black on his Jura coffee machine, produced in the region he grew up in. He only asks that his one coffee is a good one.

“I look for a nice aroma and a pleasant taste that’s not too bitter. Coffee should be smooth and elegant,” Jacques says.

“Coffee has always been an important part of human society. It’s a way to socialise. You can catch up with friends over a coffee or talk with colleagues about what will happen that day, and it always makes you feel good.”

In the early days of his professional career, Jacques worked in kitchens all over the world, including Lake Geneva, Madrid, and Brazil. He spent a year living in São Paulo and two years in the Amazon, and says Brazil provided the most memorable coffee experience of his life.

“Brazil gave me the best coffee I’ve ever had. Everyone would drink small black coffees and I would easily drink 10 every day. I also became a fan of iced coffee in the Amazon,” Jacques says. “I never had a chance to visit the farms, but from São Paulo I would go to the coast of Guarujá near Porto de Santos, the biggest port for coffee import and export in the country. There are lots of warehouses and coffee companies located there. Fifty kilometres into Santos I could smell the beautiful aroma of coffee being roasted – that’s a long way from town. It was spectacular.”

Jacques has taken his love for coffee aroma into the kitchen. Over the years his repertoire has extended to coffee ice cream with a touch of vanilla, and its addition to chocolate to add bitterness and sourness to “lift the palate”.

“I really enjoy working with coffee. It’s such an interesting and versatile ingredient you can use far beyond desserts,” he says. “Take a flounder fish, for example. Steam it and serve with a coffee-infused fish sauce. Delicious. Coffee with game is also great, such as white boar venison. I like to make a sauce using coffee, which can be quite powerful. I crush some beans or use an espresso shot which complements the sweetness and richness of game and lifts the dish to another level.”

Jacques too has reached the pinnacle of his career as one of the country’s most respected and awarded fine dining chefs.

From a young age Jacques showed signs of skill and determination. He took over as head chef of the family hotel and restaurant in 1979. Jacques’ technique and style earned him his first Michelin Star the following year. In another three years, he gained his second. In November 1983, Jacques, his wife Kathy, and their two daughters moved to Australia seeking new opportunities. They arrived in Melbourne, and true to his willpower, Jacques was employed within a week at Mietta’s in Fitzroy where he worked for three years, slowly influencing the restaurant towards French fusion cuisine.

“The food culture in Australia is totally different to when I first arrived. You just can’t even compare it. It’s been through a huge evolution,” Jacques says.

It was always his intention to get back to the family tradition of business ownership, and in 1987 Jacques opened Restaurant Jacques Reymond – Cuisine du Temps, on Lennox Street in Richmond, which later relocated to the heritage-listed Windsor mansion. For the next 26 years, Jacques introduced his style of contemporary French cuisine to the people of Melbourne, earning him consistent accolades and recognition, including a total of 80 hats from The Age Good Food Guide, along with being voted one of the best restaurants in Victoria six times in a row.

“The awards were substantial, but we never sought out to get hats, it was just a nice reward for our hard work,” says Jacques. “As a family we’ve had eight restaurants in our life – it’s just part of our life. It’s what we do and we do it well. We are professionals.”

In December 2013, Jacques closed his long-running restaurant, a sad decision but one he says was simply “the next step” in his career.

Retirement is not a word in Jacques’ vocabulary. The veteran French restaurateur still helps run the family’s two restaurants, Bistro Gitan and L’Hotel Gitan. Both venues have a completely different identity and personality to Jacques’ fine-dining establishment. What they do have in common however, is the same Reymond flair: great food, top-notch service, and booked out sittings, day in, day out.

“The main difference is that I don’t have the same pressure in the kitchen. My children run the show. I advise them if they need assistance or support but I don’t get involved as much – although I did work in the kitchen last Sunday and it was great fun,” Jacques says.

“My family had always worked together. My parents did, I did, and now my kids do too. It’s what they love to do, and they’re good at it. They started off working with me at the restaurant doing the dishes at 10 years old.”

Jacques remains busy as a highly sought-after guest chef, ambassador, consultant, and mentor for the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year for the Asia Pacific region, a competition that guides up-and-coming chefs into the world of the commercial kitchen.

This article features in the February 2018 edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe here today to see the FULL copy: www.beanscenemag.com.au/subscribe