Take one top French chef, add yesterday's leftovers

POOR Jean Fleury. No sooner had the jet-lagged chef from France finished lunch for 75, than the contents of a Hongkong refrigerator were given to him.

The challenge - make dinner for two from leftovers, imported from North Point. In 30 minutes or less.

For the chef de cuisine from the famed Paul Bocuse three-star Michelin restaurant near Lyon, honoured as ''First Chef of Belgium'' during a stint in Brussels, and, in 1989, ''Chef of the Century'' from dining critics Gault & Millau, the task was small potatoes.

His creation, a chicken pot au feu, testified to the philosophy espoused by his colleagues for decades - good cooking is a marriage of technique, ingredients and simplicity.

Fleury is here, showing off his three-star style at the Hilton Grill. Over the next six months the hotel will showcase various French chefs in honour of the hotel's 30th birthday.

The contents of our shopping bag included half a cooked chicken, carrots, less-than-fresh broccoli, cabbage, long beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, instant noodles and ginger. In less than eight seconds, he announced: ''Pot au feu.'' ''I've never seen this way of cutting,'' he said, about the tiny pieces of chicken. He made a stock, using chicken powder cubes. ''Every kitchen has these,'' he added, in rapid-fire French. ''They're needed because the [cooked] chicken can't give any more flavour.'' With two saucepans on high flame, he prepared stocks for the tomato sauce and chicken. With two pots of boiling water, he and an assistant blanched each vegetable individually. Out of the 15 ingredients, he didn't use the sesame seed. ''Use those on bread.'' Pivoted between the range and the counter, Fleury reached for strainers and knives while keeping one eye on the chopping board, the other on a pot. He called for the salt or pepper mill the way movie surgeons ask nurses for scalpels. He sampled with a teaspoon. When the tomato sauce needed more salt, he flung a handful with the wrist action of a flamenco dancer.

The instant noodles confused him. After a quick translation, he opened a packet, took a sniff and judged them okay: ''I'll take some back to France.'' In his mid-40s, Fleury began his career at the Auberge Bressane, in Bourg-en-Bresse. After eight years in Brussels, he took over the kitchen of a two-star restaurant/hotel in Lyon. Then, in 1985, on a trip to the market he met Bocuse. ''He asked if I wanted to work for him. I was surprised. I didn't know what to say, but it took me only seconds to figure out, I would never get such an opportunity again.'' Fleury travels about three times a year for Bocuse, overseeing restaurants in Rio, Tokyo and Florida. When he is away, his replacement is the culinary legend himself. ''He's nearly 70 and still very fit,'' said Fleury, who reigns over a kitchen of 25 cooks and a dining room staff of 60. They serve 125 guests.

After his whirlwind cooking session, a weary-looking Fleury ladled the soup into bowls, placed each in a linen napkin and set them on a tray. When teased for running 10 minutes over time, he responded: ''But I wanted to do something very special, you know, for Valentine's Day.'' As for the two extra portions: ''It will taste so good, you will want seconds.''