Chef Sylvain Prepares Locally Sourced, Seasonal Ingredients and Creates Custom Menus That Reflect Regional Tradition
Wherever we are in the world, chasing adventures in cheese means immersing ourselves in local, agricultural and seasonal experiences. While traveling, we hope Cheese Journeys’ careful attention to menus and meals reflects this ethos.
Our collaboration and work with Chef Sylvain Jamois has been a delight. Chef Sylvain travels with our group on most European tours. He sources menus from what’s growing just down the road, bringing an even deeper connection to the local culture and terroir and featuring regional specialties to complement each day’s itinerary.
Sylvain’s food story began in his grandmother’s bistro in eastern France. “It was simple, French fare. My mom was working there from age twelve. It’s been a thing for our family. I’ve always been cooking,” he says.
When he was just fifteen, Sylvain was hosting dinner parties for large groups of friends, yet cooking was not his chosen path of study. Instead, an interest in tailoring lead him to enroll in a fashion course in London. Though raised in France, it was in London, during his first summer job at the iconic Neal’s Yard Dairy, where his appreciation of artisan cheese really flourished.
“I liked it so much, I ended up staying two and a half years and didn’t go back to college,” he laughs. Instead, he got involved in the selection, the science of caring for and aging wheels of traditional farmstead cheeses- many of which were being rescued from obscurity and brought to market in London by this groundbreaking company.
“Eventually, I got to go on the trips to the farms, to select the cheddars in the southwest. I met so many interesting people, food writers and cheesesmakers. For two years, all I did was cook, learn about food and cheese…and of course, talking excitedly about everything I was cooking!”
In 1998, he accepted a position at Moro, a London restaurant featuring North African and Spanish tapas-style menu, soon after the restaurant was founded. “They had a huge wood fired oven and open kitchen. It was a warm inviting space to cook after the years in the cold, damp cheese shop and quite a nurturing environment,” he recalls.
“I started at the bottom and worked my way up. Within a year and a bit, I was sous chef and head chef when owners Sam and Sam Clark were out. It was a fantastic and formative experience.” After several years there, he decided to take a more independent culinary route-freelancing, catering large weddings, intimate dinner parties and events.
Sylvain first joined Cheese Journeys on the 2014 English Cheddar Odyssey and is now an integral part of the team. We’re thrilled that he will be joining us for two France tours later this year, as well as future trips to England, Italy and California.
As we travel I often say, there is something very unique and special about coming back to a beautiful home at the end of the day, sitting around a table and enjoying food prepared by a personal chef who is knowledgeable about cheese, cooks with local ingredients and uses traditional recipes.
When traveling on a Cheese Journey, you’ll find Chef Sylvain often casually inviting the guests into the kitchen to join him peeling potatoes, assist with building a beautiful cheese board or sharing a late night drink and a little chat as he puts the final touches on the next day’s menu. Guests are invited to join him shopping at the French market, followed by a cooking lesson, and an afternoon of hands-on meal preparation- often listed by previous travelers as one of the highlights of the tour!
Sylvain is especially looking forward to the upcoming tours to France in September and he’s already thinking about the menu. “It’s a great time for produce. I’ll use local suppliers. Whatever is in season and local will dictate what’s on the menu. That’s the inspiration, really; local, traditional recipes and plenty of raw salads and vegetable dishes. After a whole day of cheese and beer and wine, people appreciate something fresh alongside the richer and more decadent cuisine of the region.”
When he’s not cooking for Cheese Journeys or other clients, Sylvain spends time inspiring young people to cook. In 2010, he co-founded Root Camp, a cookery school for teenagers. “Root Camp – it’s a play on ‘Boot Camp’ because we make them work hard,” he says.
“It’s not just about cooking. Half of it is about the growing and provenance of the food. They’re either cooking with me or foraging in the forest or working on the organic farm. The goal is to give young people basic skills and confidence to cook proper meals at home. We hope they leave us being a more informed consumer and understanding how to minimize the impact their food has on the environment.”
The camp is held in Devon and about half the kids who attend are sponsored, traveling from inner city London to the farm. The other half are more affluent teens who want to know more about cooking. “The social mix is one of the most interesting things about the program and it makes for great conversations.” In the evening guest speakers from bee keepers to cheesemakers to fiber makers add yet another dimension.
Whether it’s a group of international cheese lovers or young teens, the power of fresh, local, well-prepared food to bring people together cannot be understated. Join Cheese Journeys, Chef Sylvain with his refreshing approach to cookery on the upcoming France tour. September 9-20 is SOLD OUT. A few spaces remain on the September 23 – October 4, 2016 tour.
A simple, satisfying soup for summer, courtesy of Cheese Journeys’ Chef Sylvain Jamois. Enjoy with goat cheese crostini and a light, white wine like Pinot Gris.
“I usually make this soup on the first day of Root Camp. It has been known to win over even the most hardened vegetable sceptics… the secret is in the simplicity of the recipe which really brings out the sweetness of the squash.” Bon Appetit, Chef Sylvain
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 zucchini, cut into rounds
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible.
2 c. water or stock (vegetable or chicken.)
1 small bunch of parsley, picked and roughly chopped.
1/3 c. sliced almonds
Smoked paprika to serve
In a medium sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat. Fry the onions with a pinch of salt until they start to soften, about 7 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the zucchini and the bay leaves. Cook 10 minutes then add the water or stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for a further 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, coat the almonds in a little olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and paprika over them. Toast gently under a broiler, making sure they brown evenly. Be careful not to let them get dark or they will be bitter, just a little color will do.
When the zucchini has softened, discard the bay leaves, add the parsley and blend the soup until smooth. Serve with the flaked almonds on top, a little extra paprika and a drizzle of olive oil accompanied by fresh goat cheese crositini.
Taste Chef Sylvain’s delicious, locally sourced meals on our upcoming Fromages de France tour. A few spots remain on our late September itinerary. Join us!