How to annoy a world-class chef
Bangkok's 13th World Gourmet Festival is on this week at the Four Seasons Hotel. From September 3-9, 11 top global chefs and experts will showcase their skills during a series of lunches, dinners and master classes.
But along every road to culinary stardom comes a heavy serving of folly and irritation.
Here, a few of this year's participants share their wildest moments on the job, tales of painful injuries and what questions annoy them most -- along with all the good stuff that fuels their lifelong passion for wine and cuisine.
Chef Igor Macchia, La Credenza, Piedmont, Italy
Chef Igor Macchia spent years creating his own personal kitchen style before becoming co-owner of Italian restaurant La Credenza in 2005.
He was awarded his first Michelin star the following year.
Having travelled extensively through Asia, his dishes are a creative blend of colors and tastes, textures and shapes.
Craziest moment in the kitchen: "I think every chef could write an entire book about strange and crazy things that have happened in the kitchen. Probably for me it was when a really important guest misunderstood the way we served a traditional dish on the menu.
"The dish consisted of home style ravioli served in a napkin. Once the guest saw the napkin arrive on the table he thought we were changing his napkin and he threw all the ravioli around the restaurant. I felt speechless."
Worst injury on the job: "I've had many, but probably the worst one was when I pierced my hand with an oyster knife.
"The funny part is that I was teaching a young guy how to open oysters and the restaurant was really busy so I couldn't go to the hospital until the end of the service."
Most annoying thing a person can ever say to a chef: "'Your wife will be a really lucky lady.' But no chef wants to cook at home.
"The second one is: 'What is your specialty?' Actually for me, I don't have any specialties I love to cook and that's it."
Dining trend more people should embrace: "I really would love to see many people going to a restaurant just to enjoy food and atmosphere, not only to judge. For me a restaurant still needs to be a place to go to enjoy food."
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What fuels his passion for cooking: "The ambience you have in a kitchen, meeting new people, new ideas and new culture and traveling around the world. For sure the feeling you have when a guest loves your food is also really important."
Ingredient he couldn't live without: "Parmesan cheese, because I'm Italian and I really love it. I really love wasabi too, just to spice my life up a bit."
Biggest misperception about Italian cuisine: "I think many people still think that Italian food is still the same as it was 50-60 years ago.
"But especially in fine dining the food has changed a lot, and this is my mission -- try to show people that fine Italian dining is becoming quite different."
Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine
Jeannie Cho Lee gets paid to drink wine. On that basis alone it would be easy to dislike her if she wasn't so nice.
The first Asian Master of Wine (MW) and an award-winning writer, wine critic, judge and educator, Cho Lee is the author of "Asian Palate," a book that explores Asian food and wine pairings in 10 Asian culinary capitals.
She was born in Korea and has lived in Hong Kong since early 1994, where she is contributing editor for Decanter magazine, writes for several newspapers in the region and is a wine consultant for various hospitality companies.
Check out her website, AsianPalate.com, for more on pairing up Asian food and wine.
Wildest moment on the job: "The wildest moment I had in a restaurant was when I was invited by a senior Chinese government official in China for a very sumptuous banquet and in the middle was asked suddenly to sing!
"I did end up singing (not well because it is clearly not my forte) an old Korean folk song and everyone realized why I never dreamed of going into the music industry and stuck instead to wine."
Most annoying thing a person could ever ask a Wine Master: "'What is your favorite wine?' It is like asking Picasso, 'what is your favorite colour?'"
Dining trend more people should embrace: "I would like to see more people enjoy their local meals with wine, to make wine part of our food and dining culture here in Asia.
"Pairing is about maximizing pleasure and if taken too seriously, it can make people nervous or uptight about exactly what to serve with which dish or meal.
"Experiment, don't be afraid to make mistakes and remember the great pairing moments.
"We have such a rich culinary heritage, I hate to see people changing authentic, traditional flavors just to 'suit' wine. There are enough wine styles out there to ensure that for every meal, there are good wines that will pair well."
On her passion for wine: "Great wine, like great music and art, is a thing of beauty. I am always in awe of beauty.
"Wine still holds mystery for me -- that no matter how hard I try, I won't be able to truly 'master' it. I appreciate the symbiotic coming together of human craftsmanship, product of the earth and influence of nature."
Style of wine she couldn't live without: "One with inherent harmony, no matter the style or color. Wines that exude beauty in its fleeting perfection."
Biggest misperception about wine pairing: "That there is a formula or 'right answer' in pairing.
"While there are guiding principles -- tannic wines make dishes with chilies taste hotter/spicier, acidity in wine cuts through grease and fat pretty well -- these are just starting points of understanding. What tastes great for me does not for you."
Chef Shiqin Chen, La Rei, Il Boscareto, Piedmont, Italy
Born in Shanghai, Shiqin Chen took off to Europe at a young age where, by chance, he attended a course at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners and was introduced to the cuisines of France and Spain.
Various internships followed in some of Italy’s best Michelin-starred restaurants, from Il Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio to the Antica Corona Reale in Cervere, where he stayed for 10 years working alongside Chef Gianpiero Vivalda.
Eventually he joined La Rei, the gourmet restaurant of Il Boscareto Resort & Spa.
Wildest moment in the kitchen:"A Saturday night during the service the lights went out in the kitchen and I had to cook for a wedding by the light of candles.
"I think that might have been the craziest moment of my career, because in the end everything turned out fine."
Worst injury in the kitchen: "Once during the service I burned my entire arm. The restaurant was full and I had to go on, so I put cream on my arm and went on cooking."
Most annoying thing someone can say to a chef: "Ask them what their favorite dish is."
Dining trend he'd like to see vanish: "I’d like to see those dining trends that focus only on technical aspects and forget the importance of the local products disappear."
On his passion for cooking: "My passion for cooking is fueled and enforced by my great passion for wine and enology."
Ingredient he couldn't live without: "Pasta! Having lived for 12 years in Italy, I think that this ingredient is part of my tradition."
Biggest misperception people have about Italian cuisine: "People always think that Italian cuisine is just pizza and ice cream, but it’s really wide and deep, with many aspects that vary from region to region."
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Chef Victor Quintillà Imbernón, Lluerna, Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona native Víctor Quintillà Imbernón began his career at the Escola d’Hostaleria I Restauració de Barcelona before he went on to apprentice and work at some of the top restaurants in the region, including the Michelin-starred El Reno and famed elBulli.
Today he runs his own restaurant, Lluerna in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, with his sommelier wife, Mar. It specializes in seasonal, Mediterranean-influenced dishes like beef entrecôte with white eggplant; and dry aged ox with mustard parmentier and endives.
Wildest moment on the job: "Water [started to flood] into the kitchen and we just kept cooking."
Most annoying thing someone can say to a chef: "That the food was made without love."
On his passion for cooking: "I like to do the job with enthusiasm, passion and love. I'm passionate about trying new ingredients, recovering ancient ingredients and getting to know food producers in person."
Ingredient he couldn't live without: "Apart from the passion, fish. Because it is delicate and subtle, which marks our kitchen."
Chef Galvin Lim, Les Amis, Singapore
Les Amis’ executive chef Galvin Lim started out as a student at Singapore's SHATEC Institute before working up the ranks at Shangri‐La’s now defunct La Tour Restaurant. Next up was a stint with the Au Jardin opening team as resident chef.
Over the years, he has trained in some impressive global kitchens, such as Lameloise in Burgundy, Le Gavroche in London and Les Elysées du Vernet in Paris under Alain Solivérès.
Chef Galvin's style of French cooking highlights the balance and contrast of flavors and textures.
Wildest moment on the job: "We had a wedding cocktail reception where the cold buffet display consisting of 600 pieces of chilled fresh oysters disappeared within 10 minutes.
"Canapes were passed out using a butler service and we still couldn’t cope with the overwhelming craving for more food, the result of some of the guests helping themselves directly from the kitchen."
Worst injury in the kitchen: "A junior staff accidently sliced off his thumb and the vein of his index finger while trying to cut a block of parmesan cheese. This is the worst I have seen!"
Most annoying thing someone can say to a chef: "Chefs who are skinny can’t cook well."
Dining trend worth embracing: "I hope to see more diners embrace the idea of well prepared food with good quality ingredients."
On his passion for cooking: "Regular diners returning frequently fuels my passion for cooking."
Ingredient he couldn't live without: "I would say eggs and noodles. I think eggs are one of my favorite things to eat, whether it's a fish egg or a chicken egg. It's such a perfect food, because there are so many ways you can manipulate it. You can soft boil it; fry it, boil it; they're all fantastic and so delicious.
"Also noodles, be it in soup; dry version with a touch of vinegar and chilli; stir fried; served cold etc, they’re all wonderful, not just because I'm a Chinese, because I eat it every day.
Biggest misperception about gourmet cuisine: "Tiny portions are not substantial."
Frédéric Vardon, Le 39V, Paris, France
Born in Normandy into a family of charcutiers and farmers, Chef Frédéric Vardon's passion for cuisine was passed down from his grandmother, who taught him that food should be made for sharing.
After completing an apprenticeship with Jean-Pierre Morot-Gaudry and training with Alain Dutournier, in 1988 he joined Alain Chapel’s culinary team at Mionnay.
In 1994, he left to team up with Alain Ducasse, where he spent 14 years working at Ducasse’s renowned restaurants around the world.
Vardon now heads the team at Le 39V, built on the rooftops of 39, Avenue George V in Paris. It was awarded its first Michelin star in February 2012.
Wildest kitchen moment: "We had a power outage in the kitchen on New Year's Eve when I was working at the Alain Chapel restaurant in Mionnay.
"The restaurant was full and we had to cook by candlelight throughout the service! Luckily for us, all of the cooking equipment was powered by gas. Undoubtedly, on that 31st December, there was a special friendliness and the kitchen had an ambiance straight out of a detective novel."
Worst injury in the kitchen: "The death of Alain Chapel. A chef who taught me so much and left too soon."
Most annoying thing a person can ever say to a chef: "I went to your restaurant but I don’t remember what I ate!"
Dining trend worth embracing: "It’s always difficult to talk of trends when referring to cuisine. As Paul Bocuse says, 'there aren’t 50 different styles of cuisine, there’s good cuisine, and bad cuisine.'
"For several years now, I would stay the trend is oriented toward 'genuine cuisine,' not simply French cuisine, but the one that is made using good products, generously and sincerely, and about having something to say through your cuisine.
"However, the one style of cuisine I would rather not hear about is the idea that cooking with 'talent; simply means mixing just about anything, and adding a lot of colour. Cuisine in 2012 shouldn’t be radically different from cuisine in the years to come, since everyone is now conscious of the need for better eating, which means respecting traditions and nature.
"This greater awareness has had an impact on food producers, they realize that we need to respect seasonality and eat produce that has fully matured naturally."
On his passion for cooking: "What fuels my passion is to work with products and be a part of the artisanal chain. To work as a chef with what others have put their love into growing, raising, sowing and harvesting so that others can enjoy them even more."
Ingredient he couldn't live without: "Passion and butter! But only pure dairy farm-fresh churned butter."
Biggest misperception people have about French cuisine: "Great cuisine, French or otherwise, requires time and attention. Cooking quickly and cooking well do not mix."
Eleven chefs and experts from around the world will be taking part in the World Gourmet Festival at Bangkok's Four Seasons from September 3-9. For ticket information and the full schedule of events, visit the official website: Worldgourmetfestivalbangkok.com.