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Q&A: Jacques Barnachon

The French chef, who recently opened La Saison restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, talks to Andrew Sun about learning from legends and adapting to a new culture

 

What's the story behind your Michelin-starred hotel-restaurant, L'Etang du Moulin? "From 1978 to 1985, my family had a little place near the town of Bonnetage [in France]. My father's main business was in watches but he had this great piece of land close to the river and forest, and we had a shop that sold sandwiches and cheese to tourists. My father built it up over time and now it's a beautiful hotel."

What's the local cuisine like? "[The area is] part of the Franche-Comté region and the main [export] is the cheese. We also have very good smoked ham and sausages, such as the classic morteau. We make very good paté with pork and wild duck. An area speciality is frogs, the season for which is very short - just five weeks in March and April. We can find them in front of the hotel. The legs are so fresh; we cook them with just butter, salt and pepper."

You started your training as a pastry chef apprentice in Joel Robuchon's kitchen. What did the legendary chef teach you? "His perfectionist way of working. He's very rigorous and precise. A square has to be square. A triangle has to be a triangle. A mistake is a mistake. A lot of chefs admire him and Alain Ducasse, but the guy who has influenced me most in cooking is Paul Bocuse. He developed his career showing off his own region and his own techniques."

How are you adapting to crowded Hong Kong? "In Bonnetage, we have a big kitchen - 20 metres long - so the smaller kitchen here is a challenge. I'll just do simple things at the beginning. The main problem is supplies. At home, I've known many of my producers for a long time but, in Hong Kong, everything is new. If I want something from France it can be difficult to find."

Are you getting used to the differences? "It's two different lives. I like a balance of the two. In Hong Kong, there's a lot of energy. I like it. In Bonnetage, every morning I see a beautiful river and sunshine, with no noise except from the cows, but I have to travel for everything. In Hong Kong, you can get everything right outside your door."

What foods in Asia have you enjoyed? "I like Thai curry, tom yum goong and most Asian soups. I enjoy wonton noodles and shabu shabu. I really like the condiments and herbs in Thailand. But some things are not for everyone. I was at a Vietnamese market and saw all kinds of ingredients, from snakes to bugs. I tried some, but I don't really like snake. I'm also not crazy about turtle eggs and fried scorpions."

 

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