Sunday, 17/03/2024 09:00

New culinary director ambitious to earn Michelin star

After spending more than 20 years working at several Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, Remi Van Peteghem has decided to move into management. Being appointed to be Culinary Director at the iconic Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, he has set the target of winning a Michelin star for the establishment. He speaks with Thúy Hằng about his ambition and the new career path.

Inner Sanctum: This is the first time you have experienced Tết in Việt Nam. Did you enjoy it?

I arrived in Hà Nội just three days before Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. It is a lively city full of life, but suddenly, three days after my arrival, the city was completely different. All the shops closed and streets were almost empty – a complete contrast to the bustling scene a few days before. I was astonished at the change. However, at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, all our restaurants were very busy and staff were working restlessly when people came to celebrate the holiday with their families. I definitely could feel the festive atmosphere, although I haven’t discovered yet all the features of this significant festival. I will wait until next year when I get more involved with this country and to be closer to the Vietnamese culture. I think I will enjoy the next Tết with a better understanding of it.

The Culinary Director of Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Remi Van Peteghem. — Photo courtesy of SMH

Inner Sanctum: Before working in management, you were a chef. How do these jobs contrast?

The similarity is that basically I am still a chef. However, there are different approaches to the two positions.

When I was a Chef de Cuisine, whatever I had to care about was guest satisfaction, how to give pleasure through the food creations, to create my own identity through the cuisine. I was dedicated to only one place [kitchen] and I worked with a smaller team.

On the management side, I have to concern myself with a broader range of responsibilities, overseeing multiple kitchens and outlets, managing budgets and developing menus. I don't have to cook, but I will be ‘the chef in the shadows’ – a title that I identify myself with. I take this position to guide my team and to make Chef de Cuisine shine. When you perform in a management position, it’s not about you, it's about the other. For me, it's another approach to cuisine.

Inner Sanctum: What lead you to management?

I am a curious person who always wants to go beyond whatever I have done.

When I decided to become a chef, a Michelin star was what I dreamed about, and I tried my best to gain this prestigious recognition. After gaining the Michelin star, I thought it was time for me to discover something different and I wanted to see something new. So I decided to leave Paris to move to the Peninsula Hong Kong, where I also took the role of Chef de Cuisine. Although the geographic change gave me a different environment and different target, after two years, once again, I was struggling with several questions ‘Do I just want to be head of the kitchen only? Is it what I really want to do in the future?”

At that time, I felt that managing the kitchen didn't give me enough pleasure. So I decided to switch to the management work by being an Executive Sous Chef of Peninsula New York. In 2016, I became Executive Chef of the Royal Monceau Paris, then InterContinental Doha the City, and Director of Culinary at Resort World Sentosa in Singapore before being Assistant Vice President F&B Culinary at Resort World Sentosa.

For me, experiencing different positions is a big change of mentality. I love this approach to cuisine. I put aside my cooking pleasure because I love to connect more with other people, to guide them and to lead them.

“I don't have to cook but I will be ‘the chef in the shadow’ – a tittle that I identify myself with,” said Culinary Director Remi Van Peteghem (left). — Photo courtesy of SMH

Inner Sanctum: The Metropole Hanoi is a legendary landmark with a long history. What are your priorities as Culinary Director?

I'm not here to change the restaurants or completely redesign the food that we have been offering. I just want to bring a bit of modernity while preserving the historical features of the establishment that's the DNA of the place.

I always keep in mind the historical values of Sofitel Metropole, so we will continue to promote this. For instance, Le Beaulieu will launch a new lunch concept dedicated to classic French dishes, which will bring connoisseurs back to the past with authentic flavours and cooking style.

I’ve worked with our chef to replicate Tete de Veau – a traditional dish cooked from veal head. Even in France, it isn’t easy to find this dish because it's very old and most people do not remember its recipe, except for a few very old chefs who learned the recipe from their parents' generations

It’s my pleasure and my responsibility to show my chef how to cook it. It’s important that we can preserve the tradition, especially that we don't keep it for ourselves but hand it over to the younger generation. Otherwise, it will get lost.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have the ambition to gain a Michelin star for any outlet of the Sofitel Metropole? What will you do to achieve this?

Yes, at Sofitel Metropole, we have this ambition. I think gaining the Michelin title is a good target. If you don't have any target, you don't grow and you don't devote yourself.

The recognition will also prove that our Chef de Cuisine at Le Beaulieu, Charles Degrendele, is a talented chef. And the target will be good for the whole team to get motivated.

To achieve this target, I will share all my knowledge with chef Degrendele and my experience to make sure that he has all the information and the tools to make it happen.

We don’t know when the anonymous inspectors of Michelin Guide will come, but we need to be ready. It's a daily routine, it's big work every day on the quality of the ingredients, cooking techniques, the expression of the chef’s personality in the cuisine; and consistency both over time and across the entire menu. It's a process to reach the target.

Since my first day at Sofitel Metropole, I have had this objective, and so does chef Degrendele. It gives us good motivation and requires a lot of dedication.

Since his first day at Sofitel Metropole, Van Peteghem has had the ambition to gain a Michelin star for the hotel. — Photo courtesy of SMH

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any celebrated figure who has influenced you?

Each famous chef I had the chance to work with has his own personality, but I don’t want to be a copy of anyone.

I like most the 'Creator of flavours and a composer of tastes' – Chef Christian Le Squer, who I had the chance to work with at the 3-Michelin star restaurant Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris. From 2001 to 2004, he showed me a lot and I also learned a lot from him. I like his cuisine style, which presents tradition and a little twist. He also gave me many opportunities to be creative. I put him in the top list of favourite chefs, but I also take the best from others.

I also have lots of respect for Alain Passard – the owner of the 3-Michelin star restaurant L'Arpège in Paris, not only because of his food, but also because of the way he presents himself.

When I joined his team, it was Passard who personally showed me how to cook. He is one of the most famous chefs in the world and he came to cook with me and to show me how to. I was stunned. ‘Like’ is not enough to present my interest in his cuisine. I love it and I love the way he behaves towards others.

I spend a lot of time with Guy Martin, one of the most accomplished chefs and restaurateurs in Paris. He offered me the opportunity to become a Chef de Cuisine of his restaurant and let me do freely whatever I wanted.

He told me “It's your style, it's your identity, it's your restaurant. Me, I'm just the owner. My name is nowhere, it's yours.” I really appreciate the opportunity and the trust he gave me. VNS

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