Culinary savoir-faire

Olivier Da Silva, Michelin-starred Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant: “when I create a recipe, I put myself, first and foremost, in the patient’s shoes”

At the crossroads of gastronomy and contract catering in the health & welfare market, Michelin-starred Chef Olivier Da Silva and Elior have joined forces to create a specific culinary identity which is based on the Norman region and takes into account the side effects of the treatment of patients attending the outpatient surgery ward at the Henri-Becquerel Cancer Center.

Since early 2020, Elior Chef Antonio Stracquadaino and Olivier Da Silva, the Michelin-starred Chef at the L'ODAS restaurant in Rouen, have been sharing their savoir-faire to create menus that combine freshness and surprise.

On the occasion of the launch of two new menus from the winter menu on January 15, 2021, L’ODAS Chef Olivier Da Silva, looks back on his career and his cuisine, the genesis of the meeting with Elior and gives us a behind-the-scenes look at this partnership.

Tell us about your background; what made you want to become a cook?

ODS I was only 14 when I knew what I wanted to do. I grew up in the catering business; my father worked in a butcher shop and my mother in the kitchens of a private clinic. I come from a fairly generous family, who loved cooking for and entertaining their guests. After third grade, I took up an apprenticeship and never looked back. I worked under several chefs ranging, from the traditional ones to hotel chains, including a Relais Châteaux Michelin-starred for whom I have worked as sous-chef. After that, I moved to Normandy to work as Chef for a year then, in 2008, moved to another restaurant in Val d'Oise, where I received my first Michelin star in 2010. However, I wanted to branch out on my own and discover new horizons, so I left the restaurant in 2013, settled in Rouen and opened my own restaurant. In 2015, I got my star back with this new restaurant. You see when you leave a restaurant, the star stays with the restaurant which must endeavor to keep it. It's an award that's put into play every year.

You are currently the Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant in Rouen, how did the restaurant come about?

ODS L’ODAS is a restaurant that I designed and built from scratch. I am very proud of it. At the beginning, there were only concrete walls. I wanted to create a truly relaxed and quality venue, that reflects my uninhibited style of cuisine. The restaurant has since evolved, the terrace has been enlarged and we even have a private lounge. We also rented a room on the 6th floor of a neighboring building which has a panoramic view of the cathedral. The restaurant really has several different atmospheres.

My primary obsession is to continually reinvent myself, to please the people of Rouen, to retain my customers, to please myself, and above all to please my customers.

Olivier Da Silva, Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant

You are clearly committed to the products you work with and to simplicity. What guides you? 

ODS My primary obsession is to continually reinvent myself, to please the people of Rouen, to retain my customers, to please myself, and above all to please my customers. I'm not a great technician, by that I mean my cookery isn’t very technical, but rather product-centric. For me, the trick is to find good producers, to let the product the place of honor on the plate and ensure the dish is very fresh. What I particularly like in the kitchen is this tremendous freshness; juices are prepared every day and vegetables are cooked before each service at the last minute, etc. Everything is prepared the same day, in the morning for noon and at noon for the evening. I would never change this approach; I love to work with good products that are cooked at the last minute. I think that's what really makes the difference, the consistency in the way I cook and the freshness of the products I propose.

You have been working with Elior since early 2020 developing menus for patients attending the outpatient surgery ward of the Henri-Becquerel Center, how did this collaboration come about? 

ODS I met someone who worked at Elior at a farmers’ market during an event in Le Havre held with quality caterers and producers organized by the Collège Culinaire de France (editor's note. Independent and militant community of Quality Artisanal Restaurants & Producers recognized by a group of 3,000 passionate professionals in the sector). It was at this venue that is truly dedicated to quality and freshness that our story began and Elior told me about the project with the Henri-Becquerel Center.

I was immediately very excited by the idea. Oncology is a subject that touches me directly, I saw the pain my father suffered before he passed away. Hospitals, healthcare, I know what it is. Patients need food that is adapted, appetizing and tasty. I obviously wanted to contribute to this project which is close to my heart. Proximity to the restaurant also played a role; my restaurant is in the town center of Rouen and the Henri-Becquerel Center at the entrance.

It was imperative to merge the two worlds for it to work, I adapted to the Elior team and they adapted to me, otherwise it would have been impossible.

Olivier Da Silva, Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant

Gastronomy and contract catering, two distinct universes serving the same cause, how do you work with the Elior Chef?

ODS At first, I tried to establish what it was he (editor's note. Antonio Stracquadaino) wanted to do. This is how I work with my staff when I develop a menu, I set the ball rolling and adapt accordingly because my teams have to appropriate it. I proposed new ideas, new ways of working because it is important to know that in an outpatient ward, meals are served cold. This is a special service that requires special techniques. We looked at the equipment he had at his disposal, bought new crockery, changed the trays, and put together a team of several people, including a pastry chef, all highly motivated.

Antonio Stracquadaino is particularly interested in what he does on a daily basis and is very engaged. There is a real transmission between us and a consistency. It’s all very easy to write down a good recipe on paper and hand it to an Elior Chef, but ensuring consistency is a more complex matter. All my recipes are thought out in this way. It was imperative to merge the two worlds for the project to work, so I adapted to Elior’s team and they adapted to me; otherwise, it would have been impossible. They were also very open to new ideas and supported me a lot; an excellent exchange on both sides.

Exactly, how did you adapt to contract catering specifically for guests suffering from cancer? 

ODS People suffering from cancer don't eat the same way as healthy people; their tastes change. Acidic and bitter foodstuffs should be avoided. How can you create a taste of lemon without acidity? This is exactly the type of thing we have been working on together with the Elior teams and nutritionists specialized in oncology. I have learned a lot through this partnership. If one is free in gastronomy, there is less leeway in this area. Because these constraints have greatly limited my ideas, I have to come up with something else, replace products, play on textures and dosage etc. The whole must be coherent.

You mentioned that outpatient meals are served cold. How do you proceed? 

ODS In exactly the same way as in my restaurant when I organize outside cocktails, that is, by serving hot broths. Dishes are prepared cold then moistened with the broth once served. Patients all have their own thermos of broth so that they can moisten and thus warm their meals. This technique gives rise to other textures.

Elior accords a very important place to the products it offers; fish are sourced from local fisheries, and fruit mainly from Norman orchards etc. locally-sourced products are really prioritized.

Olivier Da Silva, Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant

Can you tell us how patient menus are created?

ODS The menus are changed every three months. I discuss the products and their availability etc. with Antonio Stracquadaino. Elior places great importance on the sourcing of the products it offers, fish are sourced from local fisheries, and fruit mainly from Norman orchards etc. locally-sourced products are really prioritized and the partnership has just started, this is just the beginning.

Tasting sessions are also organized with Becquerel staff members and Elior nutritionists. Orderlies who are in direct contact with patients are brought in to assess the products that are consumed the most, and the least, as well as those which are appreciated and those which are not, so that we can readjust the menus accordingly. When a dish poses a problem and we know we can do better, we make it happen. Elior also conducts patient surveys and all the feedback we have received has been extremely positive. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, some of the Center's guests come to the restaurant to thank me and order our take-out meals.

When I create a recipe, I put myself, first and foremost, in the patients' shoes.

Olivier Da Silva, Chef of the L’ODAS restaurant

What recipe are you most the proud of among the dishes on the Center’s new winter menu? Is there one you prefer?

ODS I love them all. When I create a recipe, I put myself, first and foremost, in the patients' shoes. Because time spent at the Center is not very pleasant for cancer patients, dishes must be gourmet and reassuring. It should also be remembered that not all patients have access to gastronomic cuisine. Food choices should not be too complicated. I try to develop dishes with this in mind. Minestrone, for example, is a nice bouillabaisse of winter vegetables with a layer of pastry, some nice herbs and a tasty chicken broth poured over it. It's a simple dish that is hot and reassuring in winter. For the chicken breasts, the poultry is cooked at a low temperature. We control the texture to ensure that the meat is soft. The dish is served with a smooth mousseline, a nice vinaigrette on top and a sprinkling of crunchy nuts. For the tarte tatin apple dessert, this is a great classic that we have revisited with golden caramelized apples and a delicious short-crust pastry served with a vanilla and lime cream.

Finally, what advice would you give to future cooks embarking on their cooking studies?

ODS Above all have fun. There is no style of catering that is better than another. The important thing in our job is to be happy, to be comfortable in the field you choose and to transmit your pleasure. You just have to be brave, take your time and be patient. Don’t go too fast; don’t take short-cuts. Our job is one that involves a lot of gestures and repetition that can only be learned over time.

For more information on the partnership, read the article on the topic

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