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Gastronomic journey aboard the Orient Express with Jean Imbert, the new chef

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 lounge, with its cozy atmosphere, welcomes passengers for tasty tapas and homemade cocktails, to the rhythm of the pianist’s compositions. david coulon

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.

One of the dining cars in the purest Art Deco style. david coulon

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.

Not being classified as “collector’s cars”, the wagons are not subject to an obligation to reproduce their original design identically. david coulon

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.

Marquetry, cabinetmaking, copper and brass work, as for this detail of the bar: a number of crafts are brought together to maintain the standing of this train. david coulon

“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.

Two restaurant cars have been redone in an Art Deco style, under the watchful eye of Jean Imbert, who signs this dish of Bresse poultry, Albufera sauce, roasted carrots. david coulon

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.

The cabin stewards, below, take great care of their customers to make this trip a unique experience. david coulon

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.

The cabins offer a richly cozy atmosphere and you fall asleep to the sound of the locomotive in motion. david coulon

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.


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