Q&A: Akrame Benallal

The chef of the one Michelin-star restaurant Akrame, in Paris, reveals why he chose Hong Kong to open his first branch outside France

Andrea Chen
Akrame Benallal. Photo: Edmond So
"Many chefs step into their kitchen knowing what they will prepare - exactly the same as any other day. But my menu [a set menu offering three, four or six courses] changes every two weeks. No matter how popular a dish, I will never serve it again after two weeks. I've got customers coming back for dishes no longer on the menu, but I will not break my own rules. I'm one of those rock 'n' roll-style guys - new ideas coming to my mind all the time. I'm still young, in my early 30s, so I can afford to take the risk. [I find] it enjoyable having the freedom to create, to mix and match different ingredients and to challenge myself. That's why I prefer a restaurant this size [25 seats], which makes it possible to start off fresh with seasonal ingredients every morning."

"To me, he is the Beethoven in the kitchen. His cuisine is like a symphony; glamorous and in a way, very grand. I spent a year and a half in his kitchen. When I first met him, he was almost like an ET from another planet - crazy and exceptionally talented. But I do not inherit his fusion cuisine - that's what being creative is about, having your own style. He visited my kitchen in Paris every week and always recommended it to other professionals, which is very important to me."

"I had never been to Asia before I decided to open here. I think it's the distance that makes the city appealing to me. Also I think opening one restaurant in Hong Kong can make the same impact as 10 restaurants in 10 different countries, because it has a great diversity, with people coming from all across the world. And people here know how to appreciate the art of food."

"Hong Kong people don't like raw dishes. They prefer well-done. When I was in Paris I made my dishes warm when they were served; here I make them hot. But I will not make fusion cuisine. I think Hong Kong people come to my place for something different - there's no point to offer them what they have been used to."

"There's a sculptor called Ron Mueck. I went to his exhibition once in Paris, spending hours standing in front of his hyper-realistic human sculptures, in silence, wondering how he managed to accomplish that. I want my customers to enjoy the same magical moment with my food."

Andrea Chen


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Akrame Benallal