Xavier Boyer was born in Montpellier in the south of France, but spent much of his early childhood in the Caribbean – five years in Anguilla and another five in Saint Martin – where his mother owned a restaurant selling simple seafood dishes. Although his mother didn’t cook in the kitchen, he got good insight into what was involved in such an enterprise and from the age of seven was experimenting himself in the kitchen. He told us “it was just burgers and things like that, but I made them myself.”
His most important career inspiration came later, in his teenage years, when he was in the audience of a television show featuring Joël Robuchon and his food. One taste and “I’d worked out that’s what I really want to do”, he told us. He secured a stage in one of Robuchon’s kitchens and loved what he saw. He continued: “I liked the organisation, people’s motivation and the structure that came with working in an organisation like that. Because outside work I am not very organised – at work it’s a different story. I like the contrast.”
This experience spurred him to choose culinary school for his further education and he went on to study culinary and pastry arts at Paris’ L’Ecole Superieur de la Cuisine Francaise. He worked for Robuchon as an apprentice for a few years, before leaving to spend some time in Italy, working in Milan. He was keen to learn Italian cooking “because their flavours are very authentic, they don’t betray the ingredients. It’s the same philosophy with Robuchon – he doesn’t betray the product itself.”
The chef he trained with in Italy was a significant influence. He told us: “he taught me a lot about the produce because he did everything from scratch … He also taught me that you can be demanding with your staff, but you can also be very nice to your staff and create a family atmosphere – he taught me when it’s time to joke and when it’s not.” He also worked for a spell at the Four Season’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cinq, keen to experience different cuisines and styles of cooking.
In 2006, Robuchon asked Xavier Boyer to open L’Atelier in London. He was at the helm when L’Atelier won its second Michelin star, one of the highlights of his career. He was then asked to move to the US to head up Robuchon’s New York outpost and was in charge when their second Michelin star was awarded – another hugely significant achievement. He says of his time there: “New York is very nice, because it’s very cosmopolitan. I discovered so many new flavours, because you have so many different influences and different kinds of restaurants. Also, all the markets, they’re full of different products. You have Chinatown, you have Koreatown, you have the Indian part… New York is a big village with a lot of communities everywhere, but everything is all together. Fusion is not always a good thing, but if you find a flavour that you like and can incorporate it into your cooking, and do it sensitively, without trying to emulate the cuisine – just with a slight fusion, that’s interesting.”
Next came a position at L’Atelier Taipei, in Taiwan. He says of his time there: “I learnt a lot about Chinese cuisine, Japanese, because they have a lot of influences from everywhere there, because they were colonised by the Japanese for a while. It was actually the best Japanese cuisine I’d ever eaten, the best foreign Japanese food. The Taiwanese cuisine itself is very diverse. They have a lot of products that we don’t know about. Also, there are very strict import laws, so this pushed me to use local produce as much as I could – that was interesting.”
He has now returned to the London branch, taking up his current position as executive head chef in 2013. In the eighteen years he has worked as a professional chef, he has spent only four years working away from Robuchon. He told the Staff Canteen: “He is incredible to work with. There are solid guidelines: respect for the product, respect for the people, respect for the quality – it’s the whole package. Everything is the best it can be, and that’s what I love and it’s now very difficult for me to ever step outside of this.”