Chef Spotlight: Jean Michel Jasserand of Toscano
As the sun rises higher in the early winter sky, Toscano’s kitchen bustles with activity. Chef and co-owner of this fine dining Italian restaurant in Bangalore’s upmarket VR Bengaluru, Jean Michel Jasserand softly instructs his staff before settling down in a comfortable sofa with me to share his insights on Italian cuisine, the vibrant city of Bangalore and the importance of making his guests feel comfortable.
Michel’s affair with the Indian food market can be traced back to The Leela Palace, Bangalore where he started working in 2002. With more than a decade spent in the vivacious city of Bangalore, exploring and absorbing its culture and gradually becoming an essential part of it, he envisioned an Italian food revolution in the city through his culinary art, and armed with what he does best, he began his culinary coup d’état to reach the hearts of Bangaloreans.
Chef Jean Michel Jasserand
He talks about his early life in the city recalling that working at The Leela gave him much needed exposure and taught him man-management. He spent 5 years at the hotel learning the ways of the people and the food choices of the city, before he decided that Bangalore offered a lot of potential for him to start something of his own. Michel partnered with Goutham Balasubramanian, a former colleague at the Leela Palace, and the two started Toscano in July 2008 as a trattoria-style restaurant-pizzeria-wine bar. With success on their heels, they have opened their fifth outlet in the city at the Forum Mall, Koramangala, and by the looks of it Bangaloreans seem to have an affinity to this elitist Italian restaurant.
Tanya Dhar with Chef Jean Michel Jasserand
Me: How did you get your start in the restaurant industry?
Jean: My penchant love for food and cooking started at an early age; whether I was making bread with my grandmother or playing in the kitchen while the rest of the family was asleep, food brought a special joy for me. I had dreamed of travelling the world, and I realized that there was no better way of making my dream come true than to be a chef. I have now spent more than 30 years in the industry and I have served as a Head Chef in some of the most renowned hotel chains. I have also worked with some of the best Michelin Star Restaurants around the globe. This has given me the chance to hone my skills and improvise the craft.
Me: Why did you pick the name ‘Toscano’?
Jean: The name traces its routes to Tuscany – a region in Italy which is popular for its olive groves and vineyards. Tuscany is symbolic to healthy food which bears a Mediterranean influence. Europeans identify Tuscany as one of the best regions for Italian food.
Me: How would you describe the food at your restaurant, and what are some of your signature dishes?
Jean: I love the simplicity of Italian cuisine, and I sought to prepare dishes that Bangaloreans were familiar with, but revolutionize the presentation by redesigning it through my imagination and reinterpreting it through my eyes.
The same perspective flows into my pizzas too. It’s about the perfection of the dough, the quality of the sauce and the taste of the cheese. Most of the places that serve Italian food only hit two out of the three. But I am a perfectionist and I want to get all the three of them right every time a pizza is made. But yes, in a nutshell, the food at Toscano is all about fundamental recipes that are prepared using fresh produce resulting in an authentic taste.
*Chicken de Toscano – spinach and ricotta stuffed sage infused chicken breast served with bean ratatouille, roasted potatoes and house gravy.
*Seared Beef fillet Steak – goat cheese & bacon-medium done served with porcini risotto, grilled vegetables and red wine.
*Homemade Fresh Pastas with a choice of filling and sauces
*Pizza traditional thin crust hand-stretched to order, topped with our house tomato sauce and mozzarella- stone baked to perfection.
Me: How often do you change your menu? Do you have any specific farmers’ markets where you shop for ingredients?
Jean: We revise the menu at Toscano once a year, but we also offer daily and weekend special menus. Our menu features dishes that are prepared using the best fruits, vegetables and cheese which is sourced from organic farmers’ markets close to the city of Bangalore.
Me: Is there an ingredient you use a lot that would surprise people?
Jean: There is this exceptional Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tuscany which is used a lot in our dishes, but the element of surprise is usually achieved through the preparation and plating of the food.
Me: Let’s talk food trends. What are some current culinary trends that you can really get behind?
Jean: Wood-fired ovens are getting a lot of attention these days and I embrace it obviously because this is how my grandmother used to cook. She has never understood stoves where you turn the knob and flames jump up. Although cooking with wood is such a process, there is such an authenticity in the taste and flavour that it imparts to the food.
Another point to note is that customers always want to find out how a dish is prepared so the key is in your originality. Creativity pays off, copying doesn’t. Your own special twist to a dish makes it stand out. There is a chance that criticism may follow, but if you stand strong, people will soon appreciate your dishes for their artistic flavour.
Me: What would we find in your kitchen at home? What’s your go-to snack?
Jean: You would find some specific mushroom species, sea weed, and fresh herbs in my little garden on the terrace.
I go to Café Noir for their Hot Chocolate and Fresh Strawberry Tart.
Me: Where are some of the places you like to eat besides your own restaurant? Do you have any plans for more restaurants in the future?
Jean: The Leela Palace, The Ritz-Carlton, and Yauatcha.
I think, like any creative person, I experience movements and focuses. At this time, the restaurant reflects my metamorphosis from an established cook to a restaurateur. In this process, I am also exploring who I am as a person. But for me, success never took a seat in just the stars or the awards I bag. It is all about the choices I make in my career, people coming to my restaurant and enjoying themselves, and perhaps having the option to open more restaurants.
Michel began with an Italian restaurant because of the familiarity enjoyed locally by the cuisine. He reminisces that when the restaurant was being planned, he and Goutham had hoped to attract the expats. But it turns out that the restaurant garnered a lot more attention from the locals of the city, and they now have more than 70% of their clients as Indians. Epicurean food coupled with a splendid fine-dining experience is Michel’s gift to the city, and he continues to give it away every day!
Address: Toscano, 3rd Floor, VR Bengaluru, Mahadevapura.
Timings: noon – 3.30pm and 6.30pm – 10.45pm
Contact: 080 4625 4050