Dishing out menus in a kitchen on wheels has its own work space challenges. Chef Yannis Martineau, executive chef on the Eastern & Oriental Express shares his insights on the culinary journey aboard the famous train and the passion
for food that keeps him on his toes
What motivated you to join the Eastern & Oriental Express? How did your previous stints on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train or the Belmond Road to Mandalay river cruise in Myanmar prepare you for this job role?
I have always been attracted by challenging working places and as the Eastern & Oriental Express is one of the greatest trains in the world, my choice was obviously to join. My time aboard the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express gave me the chance to experience and familiarise myself with working within space limitations and the Belmond Road to Mandalay helped me to broaden and perfect my knowledge of Asian food.
How has your experience been as a travelling chef or chef on the move?
I love travelling and my curiosity about countries, people and food has always helped me in discovering and interpreting my culinary directions. Aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express, I work closely with my team to offer an authentic culinary journey to our guests; adapting my menus to the train location, the cultures and landscapes through which we traverse.
How do you choose the menu for the train’s routes to match the changing landscapes? How authentic is the culinary experience?
My cuisine is inspired from South East Asia, offering a wide range of ingredients and allowing me to work very creatively without borders. For lunch, I strive to focus on delivering an European-Asian blend with the produce available in the locations we journey through.
The dinner is a choice of two main courses; one with more of a European affinity but always using spices and local vegetables – the other is much more ‘local’, such as a Green Curry, or Chicken Rendang.
What are the challenges of cooking food on the move vis a vis in a restaurant?
The challenges of cooking on the train are very specific: space, water availability and electricity management, train schedule, suppliers from the various countries, etc as well as narrowness of the galley kitchen. Having said that, there is no dish we cannot create – it just may be a little different from the traditional way of cooking in terms of organisation!
How big is the culinary team on board the Eastern & Oriental Express? How many restaurant cars are there on board and how are they different from each other?
My team is made up of 10 chefs, who are split into day and night shifts to cater to our passengers around the clock. We have two restaurant cars as part of the rake which differ in size – one seats 28 persons and the other 16 persons, with subtle differences in décor.
Where do you source the food ingredients from? How much of these are locally sourced?
Everything depends on where the train departs from; fresh produce is sourced in Singapore, Malaysia or Bangkok. The ingredients we use are mostly of local origin, as remaining sustainable is very important to us, with lots of nutritious vegetables, herbs and fragrant spices. Around 1,000 kilos of produce for all meals are loaded at every departure for each journey, and if we import high quality lamb or beef, we work with farmers in Australia.
How do you expand your knowledge of regional cuisines?
I am very curious by nature and if I see something new I will share and discuss it with my wife, colleagues, locals and knowledgeable suppliers. I then try to reproduce and adapt it with my team in order to draw new ideas for my future dishes.
Any advice to young aspiring chefs?
I would tell them that the only way to get into this business is with a passion for food, sharing with people and a lot of patience. Perseverance is also key, because being a chef has its challenges in terms of the investment of time spent in the kitchen and learning good techniques.