Chef Pierre-Marie Chaillou of Croisette café recently spent some time, over a delicious French meal and wine, sharing with The Yum List who he is and how he got to be where he is today.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I manage Croisette café jointly with Michelle, my wife and main partner, and I am more specifically in charge of the back of the house and all related operations with the kitchen: supplies, recipes, menus, cooking, training, etc.
I came in this industry by birth. My father was a famous baker/pastry chef before the last world war and as an irony of life, I was born on the family kitchen table. That was a period when clinics and labour rooms were not so many and when transport was not so easy.
I should have learned a lot from my father but instead I was more interested in other child matters. There's no need to say how much I regret not doing so today ;-)
What's the best part of your job?
There are many good parts in this job and the entire line: from the design and creation of dishes (in fact we don’t create much any more, we amend and modify in most cases). I love to see the fruit of my imagination come to life and the reaction of people who discover my work. Even when the recipe is not my own creation, I love to see the reaction from my guests. I love my guests to discover new savors when they eat French cuisine for the first time. I love the idea of them discovering what is authentic French cuisine. But above all I love to see the happiness from my customers when they eat my cuisine. This is the ultimate reward and the only one worth fighting for. If we chefs have no customers, we are useless.We may have customers, but revolving ones are much more difficult to get back and back again. Loyalty is a very rare commodity in our world.
Tell us a story about the meals you prepare...
My eating is quite simple, not to say boring. I love my food to really taste for what it is: I love my chicken to taste like chicken, my fish to taste like fish. That means that the emphasis is on the product. The freshness is essential, be it simple chicken, rare capon, duck, fish, etc... it can be simple food, inexpensive food, the same apply. We chesf are servicing the products, we put them on stage. We need to provide the story board and the whole environment to boost the product value but the product remains the star..
The perfect day off would be...
... resting, sleeping and sharing time with my family. My little boy is growing fast and I don’t want to miss any moment of his life. Working with my wife is an advantage and have some cons as well. Therefore we need to protect some personal life and privacy and one day off a week is very little.
A life in the day of a chef is...
... at the same time very boring and very exciting. It’s a succession of small plans and events but in most cases, they don’t work the way we planned them. We depend on so many external factors that it’s very seldom that a day unfolds smoothly and peacefully. Misssing staff, missing supplies … are almost our daily life. But as long as we don’t face missing customers we are still happy.
What do you do for fun?
In my case to change my routine, besides the time I can save for my family, I work on my computer, designing my software and programming. I started some years ago to create my own software and I manage my business with it. It can be my cashier system (POS), it can manage my supplies (ordering, stock management), manage my recipes and costing, etc. This is my passion and it keeps me on my toes by adjusting to new needs and requirements, new constraints from the local environment, etc. This is my intellectual gasoline and it is also lots of fun to me.
What's something you'd like guests to know about the cuisine prepared at Croisette café?
I'd like to share the amount of passion we put into our daily routine. We cook unpretentious, casual food but my team and I put the heart and soul to do it. Not because it’s very high end stuff but because we want it to be very consistent. This is our daily challenge and mission and we know we have done it when our returning customers are here and happy to be.
I like my guests to know that we don’t pretend to be fine dining but fine food. Food should be fine all the time - is my credo. The most modest food must be fine. I simply cannot accept to be disappointed, be it when eating my roti canai, my nasi lemak or my grilled lobster.
I also like my guests to feel that they receive great value for money when they do us the favor of coming to dine at Croisette café.
How do you select your ingredients and why?
As much as possible, I give priority to local supplies. I cook French dishes and I bake French desserts with Malaysian products whenever possible. I try to make my menu as sustainable as possible. It is a challenge because local products are still not that many of good and consistant quality. Sourcing local supplies and suppliers is one of the major challenges we face. The channels are not clearly identified and difficult to locate, we may need to buy from Johor (fish farms) or from Penang (poultry) and the main issue is to identify the suppliers then to make those suppliers to work at the same pace and methods with us.
What's your view on the Kuala Lumpur restaurant scene?
The KL restaurant scene is quite exciting because it is still a market with a huge potential. French food is still quite confidential for Malaysia, for many reasons: it has an image of uniqueness and high end that generates also an image of expensiveness. I consider it one of my missions to change this perception and this another challenge.
The scene changes very fast, many new openings, many closings, the usual life cycle… But I have the feeling that the new comers want to show more of this, more of that… and that KLites are permanently expecting something new, more unique, more exciting. I've heard many times customers asking, “surprise me!!” My style of cooking at Croisette café is not very innovative and I personally fear this kind of expectation. I was so disappointed by expecting the chef to surprise me. Not every chef has a talent for creation and improvisation. The surprise may turn into big disappointment very often. I personally feel happy when my customers praise me for the authenticity of my food, the consistency and its value for money. As you see I have modest expectations and tastes.
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
We've recently launched a new menu, a set dinner with great value for money and where most of our signature dishes are showcased. We revamped our style and become a non-halal restaurant. French cuisine makes a large place for pork dishes and so we opened a small window for them at Croisette café.
We are currently preparing to launch a new outlet in Penang with my eldest son Nico. It will be a second Croisette café with an emphasis on more pastries and desserts, some home cooked dishes and groceries to take away (jars) including pork dishes (sausages and cold cuts). Moreover the café is attached to a small boutique hotel/home stay in a dream place, walking distance from the beach in Tanjong Bunga. We’ll keep you posted!