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Chef Interviews

Charles-Benoit Lacour from Le Dôme de Cristal

We continue our chef interview series with Charles-Benoît Lacour, Culinary Director of Le Dôme de Cristal.  Under the prestigious classy dome-shaped ceiling, we found a more down-to-earth side of the chef who loves to share his family stories and his culinary adventures in Southeast Asia.

 

How did you start your career and what brought you to Asia?

After graduated from culinary school, I worked for Guy Savoy, the chef of three-Michelin star restaurant, for five years in Paris. We came from the same hometown and I always look up to him as my mentor.  One day he told me about opening a new restaurant in Singapore and asked if I am in.  I think this is a great opportunity so I followed suit and continue my career at his restaurant in Marina Bay Sands. Four years later, I flew with my own wings and moved to Le Dôme de Cristal.

 

How did you develop your interest in cooking?

I came from a small family where we were very close together. When I was young, our family held this tradition of having Sunday meal every week. My grandma did all the cooking, from the starter to the main course to the dessert.  It was such a wonderful family moment where we can enjoy her dishes, have a great family bonding time with a glass of wine and that became a heartwarming part of my childhood. I think this is how I inspired to bring this sweet memories into my cooking in the first place.

 

So how do you describe your cooking philosophy?

I can say I am willing to test the envelopes of French cooking adding local ingredients and Asian flavours. My cooking style is a combination of my childhood home-style cooking and my cultural adventures in Asia. During my five-year stay in Singapore, I travelled to nearby cities like Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Malacca.  My wife also came from the Philippines (we met in Singapore). These experiences opened my palates and changed my cooking style as well.

We have a famous French phrase: “Tell me what you eat, I can tell where you come from.” We can tell the region you came from just by observing the food in your kitchen. If you happen to come to my kitchen, you won’t find neither bread nor cheese but chili base and rice cooker. The same concept goes to my style: I would use foie gras but I combine it with wonton to create this cultural mix.  You can say my identity is “less French” than the others but this is who I am. 

 

From the restaurant standpoint, what is the biggest change that you have to make?

I think the biggest change is to establish my own style of cooking.  I worked for Guy Savoy for many years, I don’t want to “copy and paste” his style into my menu. It makes no sense when I start on my own but using my mentor’s recipe. I need to establish my own identity and so is the cuisine’s.  I think so far I am doing very well.

 

How do you choose the ingredients in the menu?

My menu are mainly driven by seasonal produce and ingredients. But I will also add produces at their best moments. For example, I would add strawberry in my menu during June and July, or peach and apricot in July and August.  And so my menu changes every two to three weeks accordingly. 

It’s the starting season of black truffles right now but actually their best produces only last till January or early February the latest. It is not exactly called a “winter produce” as they only last for two months, or three months the most. Therefore I have already added the ingredient in the menu.  You can say I do not follow the calendar season but the produce and natural seasons instead.

 

What’s your favorite dish in the menu?

I think my favourite is the foie gras wonton.  It’s French because it has the foie gras but it has all the techniques from everywhere.  It is a nice combination.

 

What do you think of the dining scene in Hong Kong?

I think Hong Kong is the city, besides New York City and London, that contains a variety of three-Michelin stars cuisines. You have L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon representing French cuisine; there is Bombana, the only Italian Michelin three-star outside of Italy; there is Lung King Heen for classical Chinese and Bo Innovation for modern Chinese; and there is also Sushi Shikon for Japanese. Only one city in the world. 

Hong Kong’s dining scene is vibrant and competitive; the people here are well-educated and discerning explorers in gastronomy.  So you can’t expect people will like your food simply because you are French.  You have to cook well.  All these things pose a challenge for me but I think it would not be interesting if it is easy. It forces me to make improvements and innovate new ideas into the menu. We are just in the beginning of the challenge so the road to success is still far.

 

So you spent some years in the Southeast Asia, are you a Durian fan?

I am okay with Durian, but, if I can choose, I prefer mango or strawberry or peach instead.  I like Asian exotic food but there are some limits … [laughs].  I would compare durian like cheese: either you love them or you hate them.  They both smell bad but actually taste nice when you put them in your mouth.

  

What is your favorite Hong Kong local restaurant?

I’d love to go to Tim Ho Wan for dim sum. I am also a big fan of dumplings and I like Din Tai Fung’s Xiao long bao (steamed dumplings). Our foie gras wonton was inspired by the dumplings there. 

 

What is your favorite place to go and do in Hong Kong?

Besides my role as a chef, I am also a father of a two-year old baby boy, so my daily schedule is very tight. We live in the Eastern part of the Hong Kong Island and sometimes we enjoy a boat ride and visit the seafood market in Lei Yue Mun.  I also enjoy a stroll at the mountainside near Kornhill on my own.  There you can catch a nice view of the Kowloon side as well.  It’s a great area to be relax and release my stress and put behind all my roles for a short moment. 

 

What do you see one year from now?

I grew up with Michelin star chefs so I think my life would be completed if I can get one Michelin star.  I will continue to do what I am best and will develop innovative menus to satisfy my customers’ palates.  

 

 

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