LA NOU­VELLE VAGUE

Af­ter a chal­leng­ing year that saw the de­par­ture of sev­eral culi­nary greats, Chris Dwyer speaks to the chefs who are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of gi­ants

T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Meet the French chefs fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Joël Robu­chon and Paul Bo­cuse

The first half of 2018 has not been kind to the world of gas­tron­omy. The un­ex­pected sui­cide of An­thony Bour­dain stunned mil­lions of his fans around the world, while the renowned and beloved food writer Jonathan Gold from the LA Times lost his bat­tle with pan­cre­atic can­cer. For­mi­da­ble tal­ents in their own fields, both left a re­mark­able legacy of break­ing down cul­tural and culi­nary bor­ders.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, two of the great­est French chefs of all time, Paul Bo­cuse and Jöel Robu­chon, also both passed away. Bo­cuse’s name may not be as im­me­di­ately fa­mil­iar as Robu­chon, but his in­flu­ence was im­mense—you don’t get called ‘The Pope of Gas­tron­omy’ for noth­ing. His epony­mous restau­rant in his beloved Lyon has held three Miche­lin stars since 1965, a feat un­matched any­where.

Robu­chon him­self was named ‘Chef of the Cen­tury’ and at one point his global restau­rant em­pire held 32 Miche­lin stars, in­clud­ing three in Hong Kong. Re­lent­lessly per­fec­tion­ist and no­to­ri­ously de­mand­ing, he fa­mously pro­claimed that the per­fect meal didn’t ex­ist: “One can al­ways do bet­ter,” he was fond of say­ing. He helped lead French cook­ing away from the min­i­mal­ism of nou­velle cui­sine—it­self one of Bo­cuse’s key con­tri­bu­tions to culi­nary his­tory.

Chefs in Hong Kong have con­tin­ued to re­flect on the im­mense void left by these two kitchen ti­tans, look­ing not only at their re­mark­able legacy but also at how French cui­sine is set to move for­ward.

31-year-old British chef Daniel Calvert from Soho’s Belon car­ries a se­ri­ously en­vi­able re­sume with stints in some of the world’s great­est restau­rants, in­clud­ing Pied à Terre in Lon­don, Per Se in New York and Epi­cure in Paris, re­ceiv­ing peer­less train­ing in clas­sic French cui­sine. Re­mark­ably, he cooked for Paul Bo­cuse no fewer than three times when at Per Se.

While Calvert finds the loss hard to stom­ach, he’s also op­ti­mistic—recog­nis­ing that chefs to­day are start­ing from a far more priv­i­leged po­si­tion. “We ahave to con­sider our­selves lucky—when they were start­ing out, they didn’t have a Robu­chon and

Bo­cuse to look up to. We’re al­ready one up and have an ad­van­tage over them, be­cause of them. We’re thank­ful and try to live up to their legacy in terms of what we do, giv­ing them the re­spect they de­serve.”

A crit­i­cal change led by Paul Bo­cuse was how he was open to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of ex­port­ing French cui­sine around the world. In the early 1970’s he reg­u­larly took his skills and charisma to Ja­pan, help­ing the coun­try to fall in love with French cui­sine and also sow­ing the seeds of chefs be­com­ing stars in their own right.

“Bo­cuse had a huge im­pact on the in­dus­try. Be­fore him and Robu­chon, restau­rants weren’t chef-ori­ented and that change is down to them,” Calvert says. “Be­fore them, not many chefs were known, so they al­lowed us to make more money, push our craft around the world and turn the chef into a busi­ness­man, which was of huge im­por­tance.”

Sit­ting in his chef whites, tak­ing a break from din­ner prep on a Tues­day af­ter­noon, Calvert ex­plains that Robu­chon’s im­pact was more tan­gi­ble than Bo­cuse’s on how he cooks. “Clas­si­cal French cui­sine is still the ba­sis of ev­ery­thing we do at Belon. We treat in­gre­di­ents in ex­actly the same way but have the ad­van­tage of knowl­edge and ways to fi­nesse the food so it looks sharper. Maybe the sauce is a lit­tle less re­duced and more el­e­gant, but that’s moder­nity. Es­coffier could walk into the kitchen to­mor­row and fin­ish my chicken for me,” he adds with a smile.

In 2017, Calvert was named T.Din­ing’s Best New Chef and took Belon to 40th place in Asia’s 50 Best the fol­low­ing year. He re­flects on who he feels is cur­rently at the

Calvert, Balbi and Chane­ton all rep­re­sent a new youth­ful wave of chefs for whom clas­sic French tech­niques and train­ing are the key foun­da­tions be­hind their

crit­i­cal ac­claim

van­guard of French cui­sine be­fore nam­ing Dave Pynt from Sin­ga­pore’s Burnt Ends, Cal­lum Franklin in Lon­don’s Rose­wood Ho­tel and Su­gio Ya­m­aguchi at Botanique in Paris. Tellingly, none of them are French, while Ya­m­aguchi learnt his craft in Paul Bo­cuse’s home­town of Lyon, con­firm­ing that the wheel of in­flu­ence of the two French greats has truly come full cir­cle.

Two other chefs work­ing at the culi­nary cut­ting edge in Hong Kong, de­liv­er­ing dif­fer­ent sen­sa­tional takes on clas­sic French tech­niques, are Ri­cardo Chane­ton from Petrus at the Is­land Shangri-La and Agustin Balbi at Haku. The two have be­come firm friends since meet­ing in Hong Kong, thanks in part to both orig­i­nally hail­ing from South Amer­ica, Chane­ton from Venezuela and Balbi from Ar­gentina.

The glob­al­ized na­ture of French cui­sine al­lowed them to train in famed kitchens. In Chane­ton’s case, first at Spain’s one-starred Quique Da­costa and then as chef de cui­sine in Mi­razur, Mauro Co­la­greco’s two-starred tem­ple to French gas­tron­omy and im­pec­ca­ble pro­duce. Balbi, win­ner of T.Din­ing’s Best New Chef for 2016, also worked in leg­endary restau­rants such as two-starred Cui­sine Michel Trois­gros and the three-starred Le Bernardin and Ni­hon­ry­ori Ryu­gin, the lat­ter where he ce­mented his love for Ja­pan.

Although nei­ther met ei­ther of the two great chefs, Chane­ton was blown away eat­ing at Paul Bo­cuse in Lyon: “It was amaz­ing, re­ally, he opened my eyes in many ways. My ex­pec­ta­tion was fine din­ing, stiff, se­ri­ous, but it was com­pletely the op­po­site. French cui­sine was al­ways about secrets, not giv­ing away recipes. He re­ally broke all the rules and shared his secrets.”

Balbi agrees, adding that it was Bo­cuse and Robu­chon’s will­ing­ness to share: “You reach a cer­tain age and you know you aren’t go­ing to be

around for­ever, so you de­cide to pass the knowl­edge to some­one else. That is what will make you live for­ever. Peo­ple will learn from you, and that knowl­edge will then be passed down again.”

Chane­ton is clearly a fan of clas­sic French dishes and Petrus is one of the hand­ful of global restau­rants to own and use an an­tique duck press, while he also uses it to serve blue Brit­tany lob­ster in three sen­sa­tional ways.

For chefs, time­less dishes are one thing, but a legacy is ar­guably even more im­por­tant, as he ex­plains: “Es­coffier died al­most a cen­tury ago but we’re still talk­ing about him. I’m sure in 20 or 30 years we’ll still be talk­ing about Bo­cuse and Robu­chon. For ex­am­ple, the Bo­cuse d’Or - a culi­nary com­pe­ti­tion - is like the World Cup of cook­ing.”

Calvert, Balbi and Chane­ton all rep­re­sent a new youth­ful wave of chefs in Hong Kong for whom clas­sic French tech­niques and train­ing are the key foun­da­tions be­hind their crit­i­cal and pub­lic ac­claim. Just as im­por­tantly, they re­main mind­ful and re­spect­ful of the greats like Robu­chon and Bo­cuse who have gone be­fore them this year, and who al­low them to walk in the foot­steps of gi­ants.

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The prin­ci­ples of French tech­nique carry through in the cook­ing at Belon, Petrus and Haku, where in­gre­di­ents are treated with ut­most re­spect

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