A Taste of Home - La Boheme’s Olivier Troalen launches new cookery book
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Olivier Troalen has taken his native French cuisine and created new-style dishes that delight his Lymm clientele.
If your image of a French chef is a man serious to the point of sullenness, obsessed with traditional and formality and with an unwavering passion for heavy sauces, then you haven't met Olivier Troalen or eaten at La Boheme, his restaurant in Lymm.
If ever a chef was très jolly, then it is Olivier, whose approach to cooking for the allegedly ill-educated palates on this side of the Channel is one of great enthusiasm, good humour and much charm.
This is a man who thoroughly enjoys his work. 'I get up every morning looking forward to the day ahead,' he says. 'I feel sorry for people who don't like going to work.
'It's a wonderful job. For me, looking back on what I have done each day is such a joy. It's always a challenge running a family business and to survive you have to do it bloody well...excuse my French!'
Olivier clearly loves the food and produce of France but he feels its cuisine has become stuck in a rut. His desire to lighten it will manifest itself in his second cookbook, A Taste of Home, published later this year. As well as being a celebration of good food, it also marks the 20th anniversary of La Boheme. He is producing it through crowdfunding and, so far, around 400 customers have offered their support.
Olivier's career started when he went to catering school in Paris. His course, designed to equip him with front of house skills rather than those of a chef, involved a spell in England, partly to learn English. While in London in the 1990s, he worked at the French Embassy where he waited on the Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Diana, Princess of Wales.
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He not only fell in love with England but also with one of the natives - Adele, his wife and mother of their two sons. They met when Olivier relocated to Manchester and then opened their own restaurant in Chester. Two decades ago they bought La Boheme in Lymm.
When he produced his first cookbook he appeared on a French radio station and was asked where he would rather eat - London or Paris. Olivier didn't give the reply they wanted and was the victim of some ripe comments from his compatriots.
But Olivier remains undaunted. 'Many French chefs have been reluctant to move on, to change and adapt with the times. The culture of eating is very different from 30 years ago but many have failed to respond.'
When he went back to the Paris catering college he attended 30 years ago, Olivier was astonished they were offering exactly the same courses.
'The produce in France is fantastic but I love the way English food embraces, adapts and refines so many food cultures from around the world. This hasn't really happened back in France. At the end of the day, they are maybe just not brave enough. They can be over-creative, expensive and the restaurants are not always places where you can relax. They have lost some of the spark.'
One place you can certainly relax is La Boheme, which serves around 1,200 customers each week. It is reminiscent of the top quality family bistros that always took you by surprise during childhood holidays to France. The menu contains some classics but there are many lighter dishes with worldwide influences.
'But at its heart, this is an old-fashioned traditional family business - I cook and Adele is front of house and our two sons help us when they can,' says Olivier. 'One of them has studied nutrition at university so he gives me advice about healthy eating, which is great.
'You might think that is a hard thing for a Frenchman to take seriously but we have to recognise times and tastes have changed and our style of cooking has to move on to be accepted in a time when more and more people are vegetarian or vegan.'
Olivier trained to serve rather than cook but he became more interested in the kitchen when he ran his previous restaurant in Chester. 'I had a chef there who came from Newcastle. He was great and I enjoyed helping him out. When he left we struggled to find anyone as good so I decided to do it myself.'
While France does have some world class produce, Olivier is more than happy to use the best he can find close by. 'There is a lovely farm behind us and we use their veg when it's in season and a tractor arrives now and then and provides me with potatoes. We work hard to get the perfect potatoes. I can't stand it when you go into a restaurant and they serve you frozen chips. It's not only better to make your own, but it's cheaper!'
Olivier is very proud of his cuisine and takes it personally on the rare occasions when people don't enjoy it. 'I'm so proud to have been here for 20 years. I've looked after it like it was a baby. But, like a politician, a chef can't please all the people all the time but every night I cook on the edge and if someone doesn't like what I have produced I take it hard.'
An early example came in the form of his sister who came to visit. 'I made her a Sunday roast of lamb and mint sauce,' says. 'She took one look at it and said "Oh, my god!"'
Olivier had the last laugh, though. 'Now, when she comes she always says to make sure I make her the roast lamb!'
Find out more about Olivier's forthcoming book and his restaurant, La Boheme in Mill Lane, Lymm, at laboheme.co.uk