Master of fusion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 January, 2007, 12:00am

ROLAND DURAND'S CUISINE is very different from the classical dishes he cooked to win the Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 1982. Escoffier-like dishes of Chartreuse de ris de veau and stuffed turbot with lobster mousse have given way to Asian-influenced dishes of frog leg ravioli in mulligatawny and king pigeon with five spices and chestnut puree flavoured with anise.

The chef credits his many trips to Asia - and Thailand, in particular - for the creative cuisine he now makes at his Michelin one-star restaurant, Passiflore, in Paris.

'I love the Asian flavours, the perfumes,' he says. 'I like to use Thai herbs. For instance, I make a frog leg soup like tom kha gai - it's a spicy soup with coconut milk, but I use frog's legs and French mushrooms. I'm influenced by the product. I see an ingredient and think it would be interesting to make something with it, so I prepare it and have a new dish.'

The 56-year-old chef from Clermont Ferrand, in France, also loves Chinese food, which he first tasted in 1972 while working in London. What impressed him was a dish that many in Hong Kong would regard as quite simple: wonton soup. 'I found it amazing, astonishing, delicious,' he says. 'I could eat Chinese every day.'

He says he hopes to try some new Chinese dishes when he comes to Hong Kong in two weeks to cook for the South China Morning Post Style Awards' dinner on January 19 (and a dinner open to the public the next night, at Petrus at the Island Shangri-La).

Being in charge of the food for a large banquet in an unfamiliar kitchen isn't easy, and, unlike many chefs who travel with an entourage of cooks, Durand is coming on his own.

'Experience helps a lot,' says Durand, who does guest chef stints outside France about twice each year. 'It's different working with other people, but I have the experience of doing many promotions in different places. The Shangri-La has a good team and good equipment - it will be OK. I've never worked there, but I've eaten there a lot.' Durand says he communicates well with the hotel's chef, Roland Teril, with whom he worked in Paris.

'I've sent some pictures and explanations of the dishes,' he says. 'Teril is a good chef. He understands what I want, and the pastry chef is good too. I've sent them a list of ingredients to order.'

Durand will arrive four days before the banquet and will stay for about a week. The menu for the dinner at Petrus reflects his travels: as well as the frog leg ravioli with mulligatawny and the king pigeon dishes, guests will taste poultry broth with quinoa and goose liver emulsion, baba flavoured with gulab jamun with saffron ice cream, and aloe vera with blue Curacao and red sorbet with galangal.

Durand got his start early on by helping his mother cook at home. In his case, the family farm in Clermont Ferrand.

'Growing up on a farm, we had many types of food: vegetables from the garden, poultry, game, fruits, honey,' he says. 'My favourite dishes were apple tart, roast chicken and rabbit civet.'

Durand recalls the time he undertook an apprenticeship at a restaurant near his home. 'In 1966. On June 27, at 8.30am,' he says. 'I was 15 years and six months old.'

After a three-year apprenticeship, he took positions in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, London, Cannes and Deauville. In 1982, while he was executive chef at the Michelin one-star Sofitel Sevres in Paris, Durand entered a cooking competition that narrowed 400 competitors to 40, then to eight for the final round. At its end, Durand was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the nation's highest recognition for cuisine, and one that's also given to other culinary arts, such as patisserie, charcuterie and cheese-making.

Durand was chef and director of the two-star Le Pre Catalan and executive chef and director of production at fine pastry and culinary emporia, Lenotre, before he opened his own restaurant, Passiflore, in 2000, which was awarded one star by the Michelin guide a year later.

Durand hesitates to pigeonhole his cuisine. 'Some people have said I'm the first chef [in France] to make fusion,' says the author of three cookbooks on mushrooms, soups and rice. 'But in my restaurant, you can have Asian influences in some dishes, and other dishes with no influence. It's traditional tastes, but lighter. I would say it's the cuisine of the travelling peasant, you know, the farmer. What's important is taste, taste, taste.'

Dinner at Petrus is HK$1,188 plus 10 per cent. Bookings: 2820 8590.