Immediate boarding aboard the mythical luxury train. At the helm of his kitchens, Jean Imbert, the most prominent chef of the moment, invites us on an exceptional gastronomic journey. Very private tour of a train named Desire.
On the platform of the Santa Lucia station in Venice, the excitement is at its height. Travelers are about to make a dream come true: board the mythical Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, bound for Paris. Whether they are admirers of Agatha Christie or lovers of new experiences, it is towards a new passenger, just as impatient, that their eyes are turned. His name: Jean Imbert. At 40, the French chef takes over the kitchens of the famous train. Freshly decorated with a Michelin star for his table at the Plaza Athénée, the man who already officiates in the Monsieur Dior restaurant in Paris has found a special flavor in this new adventure, because here he is fulfilling a childhood dream.
The story is like that of a fairy tale. In 2012, Jean Imbert, candidate for Top Chef, reached the final of the game show and boarded the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express to revisit a menu served on board, under the watchful eye of Christian Bodiguel, master of the place. for thirty years. A friendship was born between the two chefs. Over time, the big winner of the show has made a name for himself in the restaurant business, but the fantasy of serving his dishes on the famous train has never left him.
On learning that the place was vacant, the head, obstinate and thirsty for unique adventures, sent a letter to LVMH (group owner of the Belmond group, itself owner of the train) in which he expressed his desire to take control of the kitchens of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. He doesn’t know today if his letter has been read, but work, fate and chance have brought it to its destination.
As soon as you enter the dining car, the magic happens. Chic attire is a must (sneakers and jeans are forbidden on board the train) for the happy passengers who enter a world as historical as it is cinematic. Belle Époque panels, mahogany marquetry, velvet curtains… The eighteen carriages of the train, signed by designer René Prou and glass artist René Lalique and dating for the oldest from 1926, housed six new Grand Suites, entirely produced in the Clermont-Ferrand workshops.
“The weight of history resides in every detail of this train, and I wanted to add my touch by rethinking the visual identity of the three vintage dining cars,” reveals Jean Imbert. “Thus, we changed the carpet and also some lights and marquetry, we designed new porcelain tableware, and a new bar is planned for next winter. These changes make me part of the myth in a way, and there is a little magical side that also puts pressure.
If the chef imagined part of the decoration and the art of the table, he obviously also redesigned the menus: “The train involves many constraints in the kitchen (jolts, drafts, complicated supplies… ) that I find interesting, because it encourages creativity and reflection. It requires organization and requires getting out of your comfort zone.
For this new chapter, he wanted to maintain a real kitchen and created simple, delicious dishes, made with exceptional products. Seashell bass (pan-fried a la minute), poultry supreme, lobster, roast turbot… direct from the three kitchens equipped with all the necessary equipment to serve one hundred and twenty passengers at the same time. “Twelve cooks work on board the train, it’s the equivalent of a brigade in a big Parisian restaurant, and if certain things are organized upstream, we remain, on board, cooks.”
A moving table
On the menu (unless contraindicated, identical for all customers): a starter, two dishes of your choice at noon and two dishes of your choice in the evening, cheese and dessert. Not counting breakfast,afternoon tea and tapas from the bar. Knowing that the train runs between the end of March and the beginning of November, Jean Imbert plans to completely change the menu at least three times to follow the seasonality of the products.
His next challenges? Achieving a perfect soufflé for dessert (variations in the speed of the train make the oven temperatures fluctuate and the jolts prevent the soufflé from rising normally), and sublimating his reinterpretation of Wellington-style beef. While waiting to succeed in these various culinary challenges, the chef, who has just arrived at the Gare de l’Est in Paris, is rushing back to his other establishments and is already hinting at the arrival of new projects.