At the age of 25, to be an executive chef in Mauritius, build his own culinary style.
Upon receiving the offer, I felt like Mauritius had something in common with my background. First of all, Dutch people like to travel. Historically, my hometown was a base to Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie(East India Company) and ships filled with spices dropped anchor at the port. Additionally, Mauritius was just next to Africa, and it was a former colony of Holland. Regarding the local cuisine, it was affected by the cuisine from six countries — India, China, Creole, French, England, and Holland.
At that time, I was only 25 years old. I said that I was too young to be an executive chef, but Guy Savoy said that “ I know your character. You can do it”. I was ambitious and hard working. Guy Savoy knew about it and that’s why he gave me the offer.
There was one thing he didn’t tell me, that this place is where royal families and many celebrity chefs spend their holidays, such as President of France, Jacques Chirac and the King of Sweden.
That was your first job as an executive chef, and the diners were wealthy people from all over the world. This would be a great opportunity to showcase your originality.
Yes, my predecessor was offering traditional French cuisine, but I thought the diners would look forward to a different cultural experience. I thought that using the frozen chicken from France wouldn’t be logical. At that time, Roy Yamaguchi started Hawaiian fusion, so I was determined to make something original and unique to this island.
First of all, I started using local ingredients. I found local duck, so I had them fattened and made original foie gras and paired it with local sweet potatoes. I also had the local chickens fed with corn and sugar cane that was produced locally and that made the chicken meat sweeter.
Not just the ingredients, but I also used tropical fruits and spices and even the Indian tandoor to make lobster tandoori. I cooked local fish with coconut emulsion with curry spices. I asked the Mauritians in the kitchen to teach me how to make local food. Then, I re-arranged the recipe with less spice and more people could eat them.
The original menu was getting popular, Bernard Loiseau, Georges Blanc, Michel Troisgros came to us.
Everyone was interested in our fusion cuisine.
I was invited by President Chirac to Paris to cook for them, and invited to Sweden by the king.
I spent 10 years in Mauritius, till I turned 35 years old.
That was the time when you’ve gained recognition and established your originality. What made you move to the next place?
Some investors offered me to open my restaurant in New York. But the September 11 attack took place, so it was not a good timing to open the restaurant then.
I’ve already quit my job, so I was wondering what to do. Jean- Luc Naret who was the Vice president of Sandy Lane called me. He said “We have this great new hotel in Barbados, The Sandy Lane, would you like to come over and become the Executive chef”, I had no job so I went. ( Jean Luc became after Sandy lane the Director of the Michelin Guide)
In the Caribbean Sea, learned the management of staffs. Changed the social structure and hired more female staffs to higher positions
After you worked in Mauritius, you moved to another island, Barbados. From Indian ocean to Caribbean ocean. How did you feel about this change?
What I learned over there was the management of people. In Mauritius, if someone has leadership, the staffs followed. But the Caribbean staffs were not the same.
It was my first time managing staffs who don’t have the culture of treating work seriously. It was very tough at the beginning.
How did you solve this problem, then? Do you have any criteria for hiring your staff in such place?
I decided to watch the people in Barbados and then found out that in their culture, the female was the center of the family and hardworking. So, I placed females in important positions. Many of them are mothers and had to feed their kids, so they had a strong sense of responsibility towards work. In my kitchen in Mauritius, the number of female staffs were only 10%, but in Barbados, 40% were female and my sous chef was female as well. Traditionally, in Barbados, females didn’t take important roles, but I changed these old social organization systems.
With this experience, I started hiring more female staffs. Now, in my restaurant, “Amber”, half of the staffs are female.
In that kind of remote area, my criteria to select the staffs are motivation and experience abroad. Whether they know the world or not is an important key factor.
Finally you moved to your current restaurant, Amber.
After spending 2 years at Barbados, I got an offer from Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I’m 50 years old now, so that means I have been in Hong Kong for 12 years. In my career, this is the place I spent the longest time, and I like to live in Hong Kong, I’m thinking of staying here for the rest of my life.