Board the Orient Express with Chef Jean Imbert

With a roster of world-class resturants under his helm, an enviable style that complements his signature flowing locks, and an Instagram account full of photos with famous faces, chef Jean Imbert is living the dream.

The 41-year-old celebrity chef became a household name in France in 2012, when he won the French edition of Top Chef. Taking his talents beyond borders, Imbert teamed up with Pharrell Williams and American hospitality king David Grutman to open the see-and-be-seen Miami spot Swan in 2018. By 2019, Vanity Fair named Imbert one of the most important people in France. The following year, Imbert reunited with Williams to open ToShare in Saint-Tropez.

Imbert currently runs the kitchen at Jean Imbert au Plaza Athénée, the Michelin-starred French gastronomic restaurant in the Plaza Athénée hotel in Paris. He took over the space in 2022, succeeding French culinary royalty, chef Alain Ducasse. Imbert also creates comforting, authentic French brasserie cuisine at the hotel’s Art Deco-designed restaurant, Le Relais Plaza. Not far away, Imbert lends his talents to Monsieur Dior, the 2022-opened restaurant in Christian Dior flagship in Paris.

In the French West Indies, Imbert heads La Case restaurant at the LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc St-Barth beach resort, a breezy, billionaire go-to. Imbert also creates the dishes for the ultra-luxury Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) train, which takes its champagne-sipping riders to Europe’s finest — and fanciest — cities. Most recently, Imbert took over the kitchen at the A-list favourite French Polynesian resort, The Brando, earlier this year.

“My biggest influences come from my childhood, my family, my homeland Brittany, the things that move me — obviously, my grandmother […] I like to cook with my own personal sensitivity.”

Jean Imbert

“When I was 10 years old, I was already dreaming about the moment I would open the doors of my first restaurant,” says Imbert. “The fact that it actually happened confirmed that my childhood dreams were the right ones. I opened my first restaurant at 22 years old and that experience taught me a lot, from [recognizing] carelessness, to the reality of the profession, which is very difficult. It was a unique experience.”

This first restaurant, L’Acajou, was a Paris staple for 15 years before it was reimagined as Mamie in 2019. Mamie paid homage to Imbert’s beloved grandmother, Nicole, who inspired his passion for cooking. It closed its doors in 2021 upon her passing. “My biggest influences come from my childhood, my family, my homeland Brittany, the things that move me — obviously, my grandmother,” says Imbert. “I have a lot of ‘Madeleine de Proust’ moments. I like to cook with my own personal sensitivity.”

Chef Jean Imbert cuisine Orient Express

Imbert draws heavily on local and seasonal ingredients and is known for his simple, classic dishes with creative twists. “At the Relais Plaza, there are many dishes that pay homage to my grandmother. For instance, when the season is right, the stuffed tomato is one of the signature dishes,” says Imbert of his star menu items. “Other great ones from that restaurant are the country-style pâté and the bar en croute. At the Jean Imbert au Plaza Athénée, the star is the Marie-Antoinette brioche with caviar.”

Imbert’s famed dishes alone draw discerning diners from around the world; for example, the Christian Dior egg at Monsieur Dior, a soft-boiled egg on a bed of caviar and cream.

“At Monsieur Dior, we offer the Christian Dior egg, the Croque New-look, or the Catherine salad,” continues Imbert. “At La Case at Cheval Blanc St- Barth, there is a Caribbean spirit around dishes, such as chicken colombo, exotic fruits, and citrus fruits. On the VSOE, there are historic dishes, such as vol-au vent or the lobster salad.”

Imbert says the logistics of luxury train cooking depend on the journey and the destination. “If it’s a Venice-Paris trip, there are many things that are prepared in the laboratories in Venice, like sauces,” says Imbert. “Otherwise, most of the dishes are cooked on board the train. The preparation of a train journey is 50 per cent before and 50 per cent live. We also follow the season of the products and change the menus several times a year.”

“Everything I do and all our projects make me dream; my balance also comes from keeping my children’s eyes on all this magic and dream that surrounds me.”

Jean Imbert

As for Imbert’s personal journey, it wasn’t without its critics — though he’s currently proving them wrong. With zero Michelin stars under his belt at the time, some called his replacement of the legendary chef Ducasse at Plaza Athénée one that was influenced more by Imbert’s celebrity and influential social media presence than by his experience and accolades.

“Social networks are a plus for me, I’m happy and proud to share things with my followers when I have something to tell: whether it’s a project, a story, or when I really want to express myself,” says Imbert. “But I’m not at all addicted to posting all day long. I manage my own social networks. If I have something to say, I say it; otherwise I don’t.”

When he’s not in the kitchen or working on next menus, Imbert somehow manages to find a sense of balance. “Everything I do and all our projects make me dream; my balance also comes from keeping my children’s eyes on all this magic and dream that surrounds me in the projects I do,” says Imbert.

Despite his loyal celebrity clientele, Imbert has yet to cook for his dream dinner guest. “The guest I always dream of hosting is Michael Jordan, because he was my childhood hero and I think he’s the person I’d most like to have at my table,” says Imbert.

Imbert says he hopes that his greatest career highlight hasn’t happened yet, but remains tight-lipped on future projects. “It’s 11:26am and I’m about to go in the kitchen for service…,” says Imbert of his next career moves. Fair.