Fare of the heart keeps Hugo's honcho inspired
Renaud Marin, who took over the chef's role at the Hyatt Regency's Hugo's restaurant in February this year, was born in Nice and grew up near Antibes. He worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants in France - including La Bastide St Antoine in Grasse, La Palme d'Or in Cannes and Le Bristol in Paris - before moving to London in 2004 to join L'Oranger, where he worked his way up to the position of sous chef. He then moved to the Harvey Nichols group's OXO Tower Restaurant as senior sous chef. He came to Hong Kong two years ago, and before joining the Hyatt held the position of executive sous chef at Hullett House in Tsim Sha Tsui.
How old were you when you started to develop a serious interest in cooking?
Very young. I was always hanging around in the kitchen with my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother was an amazing cook who made beautiful southern French-Italian style Nicoise cuisine. My grandfather had a little vineyard near Nice. It was very close to nature. We were country people, very much in touch with the little garden where you grow vegetables and you have rabbits and chickens. You go into the forest to pick aromatic herbs, and you have quince and fruit trees around. You are very much in touch with food in France, and that was amplified by the fact that my family loved to sit down and eat. Coming from there, you can't help but have a passion for food. I have always loved to cook.
Is that home cooking influence still prominent in your cuisine?
It is always there. I'm encouraged by the freshness of produce, and I'll use tomatoes more than I'll use potatoes. I like braising - long slow cooking like a good osso bucco. I'm definitely influenced by the Italian side of my family. Nice was Italian until 150 years ago [Nice was ceded to France by the kingdom of Sardinia in 1860], so obviously there's a strong Italian influence. Then my training was in French classics, so you get a bit of a fusion. That's been going on for a long time with chefs such as Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse who make lighter food with more olive oil and fresh vegetables, and not so much cream, butter and potatoes. French cooking has become more Mediterranean than it was before.
Why did you move to London?
I followed [L'Oranger head chef] Laurent Michel, who I was working with at La Palme d'Or. I was in Paris finishing my contract, and I got in touch with Laurent who said 'I have a position for you as a chef de partie', and I worked my way up to sous chef. I was with him for 2 1/2 years at L'Oranger. It was very interesting cooking, very southern French.
Were you also influenced by English food during your time in London?
I stayed for seven years in London, so there's an influence there. There is a school of London cuisine, but it's hard to describe. It's cosmopolitan - Mediterranean, North African, French, Scandinavian - it's all a bit mixed. My style of cooking is European rather than just French - I don't mind that, because I think there are many things to take from English cooking that are interesting. I have worked in London with very proud English chefs who have been battered for so many years by people saying that English food is bad. It's not that bad. There are things to take in there, as there are things to take in anywhere.
It sounds as though you were quite settled in England. Why relocate to Hong Kong?
Moving to Hong Kong was mainly based on the fact that the European recession has been so hard on the catering trade. A lot of jobs were cut and people were not going out as much or spending as much. People said, 'You should look at the Far East, a lot of things are happening there'. Hong Kong is obviously a place where a lot is going on in the restaurant and gastronomy business.
Hugo's is known for its conservative menu. Are you planning any changes?
I'll be bringing other produce to the menu, but it's a bit early to talk about particular dishes. I have a bit of freedom with the lunch menu and with promotions. I've introduced a very nice organic suckling pig from Wales, which is amazing. We have the classics, and I am comfortable with them because I grew up with them. You can always have a bit of influence on the lobster bisque and the snails. But you need to know those dishes before you can start to play around with stuff.
Do you cook at home for pleasure?
Not in a Hong Kong-sized kitchen. My wife cooks very well. She is English and cooks very good Indian food. She makes the best dhal I've ever had and curries and kormas. She cooks everything. It's beautiful. To be honest with you, I can't cook a curry. I can do a lamb curry to the letter from a book, but I can't do what she does with all those jars of spices in the kitchen.