Ivory-Coast-born Olivier Palazzo has been in the restaurant game since he was 15, working in the kitchen of the acclaimed chef Cyril Lignac in Paris, with whom he opened Aux Pres, before relocating to New York to cook for chef Jean Georges, at ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina. He is currently consulting for Le Song, a French restaurant in the Chelsea Market, and working as a private chef for clients. Palazzo’s cooking is rooted in French technique but draws inspiration from the range of cities he’s worked in, including Marrakesh, St. Tropez, and Abu Dhabi. Palazzo talks about one of his favorite ingredients, his advice for other young aspiring chefs, and his most loved dish as a child.
You are Ivorian, with French and Italian heritage. Tell me about that mix and how it was growing up in Africa.
I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast. Growing up in Africa…everything was perfect and beautiful. My father’s father is Italian, but was born in Tunisia, and my father’s mother is French and African. My mother’s side is full African. I think it made me who I am now, a young chef in New York City with this diverse range of backgrounds.
How did you discover your passion for cooking?
When I was a teenager, we were living in a small town, Toulouse, in the south of France. When I finished school, I would go home and help my father prepare dinner. He showed me some techniques and I eventually began making some of my own dishes. Then, one day, he said, ‘You’re actually good. What is it that you want to do?’ I said I wanted to be a chef so he sent me to a Culinary school in France.
What’s one of your favorite ingredients?
One of the ingredients I like to use is Tonka beans, from South America. They’re very nice mashed and have loads of health benefits.
What are you trying to create in terms of a culinary experience?
My background is African and French, so I’m trying to create an international cuisine with exciting accents. I cook in the French tradition and then add my spices from Africa, the Caribbean, India, and Asian. It ‘s basically my personal fusion that I’m bringing to the culinary experience.
You’ve worked at multiple venues, in multiple countries. What has been one your most memorable moments?
When I started cooking, my first place was at a small pizzeria. Little by little, I progressed. And one day, I decided to move to Paris because I wanted to grow more and learn to be a first class chef. My first job was with the well-known Cyril Lignac, who gave me the keys to open a restuarant called Aux Pres, in Paris. So that memory has always stood out for me.
What was your most loved dish as a child?
Couscous made from cassava served with grilled fish, and a little escovitch on the side. This is a traditional dish in the Ivory Coast that I grew up with. I still love eating it to this day.
What’s a word of advice you have for other young chefs?
It’s very simple. Anything you want, you can get it. You just have to be focused and believe in yourself. If you want to be on top, you can be on top. Only you can make it happen. Don’t doubt your dreams.