A New Chapter Begins
The sexy Atout is Chef Patrick Heuberger’s biggest asset. This is how it came about. Restaurant Atout is the culmination of a 17-year journey for Patrick Heuberger, 44, the Geneva-born chef who came to Singapore in 2001 and is now firmly settled into his role as husband, father and chef-owner of the restaurant of his dreams.
Call it serendipity that led him to take over the Au Petit Salut premises in Dempsey for his newest business venture. After all, he started his career at the original Au Petit Salut in Holland Village, before moving briefly to Hong Kong in 2003 and returning to its 40C Harding Road address in 2006. He left in 2009 to pursue his own business and career ventures until 2018, when he felt the time was right to open his own restaurant again.
By “total coincidence”, when he were scouting for a location in Tanglin area, he found out that his old boss Alice Low had plans to retire. With many happy memories of him at the helm of her restaurant, he was of course her “preferred choice’’ to take over. “It was a win-win situation for both of us,’’ he says. But he doesn’t feel that he has come full circle in his career by returning to his “roots” in Dempsey. Rather, he sees it more as the start of a new chapter.
“For me, I’m opening a new restaurant,” he says. “I don’t feel like I’m coming back to the same place because the style of cuisine is different from before. And of course, times are a lot different now.”
Despite intense competition in the F&B industry, Chef Heuberger’s winning combination of home-made charcuterie, informal bistro fare and affordable wines has kept Atout busy through lunch and dinner since it opened on Mar 15, 2018.
“Atout is informal but not casual. It is a classic bistro but not the old-fashioned kind. It’s fresher, not boring. I like to think it’s a bit more sexy.’’ The location also makes it a destination dining spot, with its large carpark and lush greenery.
The name ‘Atout’ is French for “asset” or “trump card”, and is a nod to the experience and expertise he has gained over the years. “Also, it sounds nice,” the chef laughs.
It’s also a logical progression for the chef who struck out on his own in 2009 to co-found Bistro du Sommelier which was a hit but also took a toll on his personal life, as he and his wife were trying for a baby at the time. In 2015, he felt he needed a change of lifestyle. He sold his shares in Bistro, and decided to pursue his passion for charcuterie in France.
For a year, he delved into everything from terrines to sausages in France, even clinching the award for Third Best Caterer in the world, after France and Switzerland. Returning to Singapore, he initially wanted to open a wholesale and retail charcuterie business but shelved the idea because “it was difficult financially as you need factory space and a big investment.”
Instead, he opened Casse Croute - a small, artisanal charcuterie shop-cum-restaurant in a Clementi condo - which took off like a rocket, surpassing even his own expectations. But with a baby on the way, he decided to sell the business and take on a regular job at Huber’s Butchery.
But his true calling has always been to be a chef-entrepreneur; so in 2018, with family life stabilised, he began to look for opportunities and found it in his trump card, Atout.
Road to Singapore
Chef Heuberger has always known he would be a chef since his childhood, when he spent weekends with his paternal grandparents in the French Alps, helping them to preserve vegetables, dry mushrooms and cure meat. His maternal grandfather was also a stove maker, which pretty much sealed his career path.
At age 12, he chose cooking as a school activity so he could make better lunches for himself and meet girls (he was the only boy in the class). At 15, he apprenticed at a 5-star Geneva Hotel as part of his school programme, and was so good that he graduated as the top apprentice in Switzerland. At 18, he set off for London to learn English and funnily enough, traditional French cooking at Le Souffle at the Intercontinental Hotel. He recalls: “I was taught modern French cuisine during my apprenticeship, so London was a fantastic experience because I was learning from an old chef with traditional service and side table carving.’’ Two years later, he left for the south of France, then to Amsterdam to pick up northern European cooking techniques “like smoking and curing’’. A two-year stint at the 3-star Trois Gros in Roanne followed, then a year in Australia, before he finally landed in Singapore and, as he puts it, “found Au Petit Salut’’.
The Next Chapter
Chef Heuberger’s concern now is to keep the standards up at the restaurant, making it a welcoming place for guests to come at any time of the day for a simple snack or a full meal.
“What makes me happy is seeing my customers leaving the restaurant fully satisfied,” he says. “It’s difficult because there are so many parameters - the staff, the supplies that you fight for with demand from all over the world. It’s a challenge but it’s satisfying when it goes well.’’ Even after 17 years, Chef Heuberger has the same simple wish: to learn. “I want to do better everyday and improve, and have fun doing it. That has not changed.’’ Neither has his desire to manage and nurture his team and treasure trove of recipes. “I want to watch both of them grow.’’
And, no doubt, his customers will grow with him at the same time.