What are your earliest memories of food? "I grew up in Da Lat, in southern Vietnam, and my mom had an eatery in our living room. She lived next to the local market in a small village and I would help her buy ingredients. My mum did all the cooking, so I would watch and absorb. I love the idea of the restaurant, the whole routine of doing the prep work in the morning, then it's quiet in the afternoon, and then the rush of energy when customers come. That routine of different sounds and experiences is unlike anything else."

Have you spent your entire adult life as a chef? "No. Previously, I was doing finance strategy and developing business plans. Six years ago it felt like the right time to do something different. I took a one-year sabbatical and went to study at Cordon Bleu, in Bangkok. [Afterwards] I worked in as many kitchens as I could for a year: in Alinea and Next restaurants in Chicago, at Caprice at the Four Seasons [in Hong Kong], and in Vietnam and Thailand. Then I opened a small private kitchen on Wellington Street that was low-risk and allowed me to establish my own cooking style and understand what works in Hong Kong. Chom Chom was a big risk, because it was a small space and wasn't serving pho or Vietnamese coffee, the food was different and hip, no reservations. But Viet Kitchen is a full-on restaurant where you can have traditional pho, coffee and sandwiches."

What do you do when you're not at work? "I spend time with friends, go try restaurants, travel to places to open my mind. At the weekend, I like to go running and hiking on the beautiful trails where I live in Discovery Bay."

In which restaurants do you like to eat? "My mum's kitchen is an inspiration. She's almost 90 years old and is still at it. I try to learn more of what she does but I have not been able to replicate her dishes. One of her signature dishes is a pork soup with turmeric noodles. Jiro [in Tokyo] is a place I'd love to be a fly on the wall. I'd sit and eat there every day just to watch [chef Jiro Ono's] daily routine. I did this at a traditional noodle shop in Hanoi. Every day for about a month I would wake up at 3am to watch them make noodles for three hours, and make the soup. Whenever I'm in Hanoi I go visit them. I like to learn by observing - you get ideas and can take them back with you."

Who looks after the cooking at home? "I like to read cookbooks - we have 500 to 1,000. My son, he's 16, likes to bake. My daughter is a year older. The other day she tried a pasta recipe with tomato cream sauce and herbs. She called me and asked when I would be home so she could save me some."

Bernice Chan

 

Clarification: Peter Cuong Franklin is no longer executive chef of Chom Chom