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Two-Michelin-Starred Écriture – Conversation with Chef Maxime Gilbert

Always adapt, always listen, never give up & work hard.
Maxime Gilbert

During his visit to Singapore for our annual Gala, So Chic had the opportunity to meet Chef Maxime Gilbert!

Since the age of 12, Maxime has always aspired to become a Chef.

Following stages at restaurants all around the world, learning from talented Chefs including Gregory Coutanceau & Yannick Alleno, his mentor, Maxime opened in 2018 Ecriture, where he started elevating French cuisine thanks to exceptional Japanese produce.

Six months after the opening, Ecriture by Le Comptoir was awarded with two stars by the Michelin Guide!

I have always been in love with quality produce and that’s the reason I went towards fine dining […]
Maxime Gilbert

Good morning Maxime! Could you start by introducing yourself, the way you want?

Hi! My name is Maxime Gilbert and I am the Chef of Ecriture, a restaurant in Hong Kong that opened 4 ½ years ago. I have been living in Hong Kong for almost 10 years now – it’s actually the first city In my life where I have been for so long & that’s why I’m calling Hong Kong “home”! I just turned 40 and have been working in the industry for more than 20 years in different parts of the world: UK, US, France, Morocco, China & Hong Kong.

Did you always aspire to become a Chef? How did this vocation come about?

I have been dreaming about becoming a Chef since the age of 12! Not because there are Chefs in my family but because my dad was working for a Cognac Company and always told me stories about people he met between Singapore, Hong Kong & Japan. When he was coming back home, in France, he used to tell me about the F&B environment in which he was. We are actually not a fine-dining kind of family but we really love food!

I have thus been cooking with my mum since I am a kid. When I started to understand that I wanted to keep doing that in the future, I went in Bordeaux to attend a Hotel Management School. I had no idea at the time of what Michelin stars or fine dining were – I understood in what consisted becoming a Chef during my first training at La Rochelle with Gregory Coutanceau.

I have always been in love with quality produce and that’s the reason I went towards fine dining: to be able to work with exceptional produce & to keep discovering new things to cook.

Could you tell us about your journey? What have been the key milestones in your career so far?

I went to Scotland during my bachelor’s degree, making the most of the experience by improving my English as I was dreaming to live in New York at the time. As soon as I got the degree, I finally directly went to Philadelphia, where I stayed for 1 ½ years. I realized at that time that I had to learn from talented Chefs in order to become one myself! I thus wrote a list of every 2 or 3 French Michelin-starred and I had the chance to meet some of them, including Yannick Alléno!

I became a commis chef & a sous-chef 3 years later with Yannick. I went to La Réserve de Beaulieu in Beaulieu-sur-Mer as a Chef Adjoint – where I learnt Mediterranean cuisine. Finally, Yannick Alléno called me back to open La Grande Table Française in Morocco. It was my first time as a Chef!

I spent two years there before flying for Asia and opened a restaurant in Beijing. I was really thrown into Chinese culture there. Produce are not easy to get but that’s an interesting experience to discover & understand China.

A few years ago, I moved to Hong Kong. That’s after 4 years that I met my owner who gave me free will to build Ecriture, in Hong Kong. It took me a year to develop the concept & recipes! My mentor Alleno was even there for the first opening of Ecriture.

Michelin awarded us with 2 stars 6 months after that!

Indeed! ECRITURE has been awarded with 2 stars by the Michelin Guide Hong Kong & Macau 2019 – 2022, thanks to your modern French fine cuisine using Japanese ingredients. You are the best person to tell us about your cuisine so how would you describe it? Can we call it a “fusion”?

I would not call our cuisine “fusion” – I don’t really like using this word. Our cuisine evolves a lot. I’m going more & more in layers: not only things you can see with your eyes but things you can actually feel. It’s like wine! If you’re a connoisseur, you will feel every flavor of the wine you taste.

We always work with French & Japanese produce, as Hong Kong is located between both countries. We have everything we want here: that’s a chance! I’m working with the best producers in France & we have no limits. Our regular customers have also really evolved in their knowledge: they’re travelling and eating from the best places so they expect restaurants in Hong Kong to be at the same level.

There is a huge diversity in the F&B field in Hong Kong: you can find everything you want and restaurants keep opening. It’s something really exciting because you cannot rest on your cuisine. You have to keep evolving to still attract the customer.

Have you thought about being awarded by two Michelin stars in the first year of the restaurant’s opening? What was running through your mind when you learnt that Ecriture won this award?

I was dreaming of it but without thinking it could be possible. The day before the ceremony, they called to tell me the news & honestly, I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly when I hung up [laughs].

I don’t want to be seen as others.
Maxime Gilbert

What are you trying to convey through your dishes?

I don’t want to be seen as others. Of course the dish has to be good, to keep a DNA made of exceptional produce but I try to bring some unexpected twists. I want people to live an experience. Cuisine is primordial but service is also an important part. I want my service team to be at the center of the restaurant. Not me. That’s what makes the customer feel special.

Do you have any advice for young Chefs aiming for Michelin stars?

Today, many things are coming very fast to young people. Some of them open their own restaurant very quickly and I’m really impressed of both their courage & motivation. But I would tell them not to forget to keep working and not to give up at every difficulty. It takes a long way to understand what we’re really doing – and even after a few years, we have to keep learning. The moment you stop learning is also the moment you stop progressing.

Always adapt, always listen, never give up & work hard.

What would be the biggest lesson you have learned from your journey so far that you would like to share?

Besides the training I did younger with Yannick Alleno, thanks to whom I’m here today, the biggest lesson I learnt is: if you’re dreaming about something, go for it. Learn from failures because difficulties make you stronger.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on new projects in Bangkok that should see the light mid-2023! Otherwise, why not trying to work for a third star [laughs]!

French Shopping, Dining & Lifestyle guide in Singapore