“My paternal grandfather was a restaurateur [on the Spanish island of] Ibiza. He had my father and his siblings work in the restaurant. Then they moved to Nantes, France, where my father met my mother. “My grandfather decided to move to Dallas, Texas, and my parents moved there, too. I think the opportunity was there back in those days. There were a lot of French people watching the television show Dallas, so it was like the big American dream. My mum learned how to make pastry there. “When I was a kid, I just wanted to play outside. But when I was around 12 years old I liked being around my mum when she got dinner ready. What really drove me into the career was when we moved back to Nantes around 2000, when I was 17 years old, and I cooked for my younger sister because my parents were busy in their Italian restaurant. “I was also in the kitchen with my dad prepping. Sometimes he would call me when I was out with my friends and tell me to help make tiramisu.” What training did you receive? “I did an apprenticeship in a small restaurant in Nantes when I was 17, where I learned the fundamentals for two years. My goal was to train in France and then go back to the United States. I wanted to work in Paris, but the week before I was supposed to start work at La Tour d’Argent, I slipped and fell on a rainy day and broke my hand. French fine-dining chef in Hong Kong on being drawn to work in Asia “I came home and my mum told me to see the doctor, who said I needed an operation so I had to resign from the job. Several months after I got better, my godfather and mentor, chef Xavier Salomon, had an opportunity to go to San Francisco so I went with him. “He took me under his wing, brought me to work at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay with him, where we did lots of food stations and outside catering. After a year he helped me get a job with Guy Savoy in Las Vegas. “That’s when I really started my fine-dining career. I spent two years there, and had an opportunity to go to [ Joël] Robuchon [at the Mansion in Las Vegas] so I went.” What’s the difference between Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon? “Guy Savoy is more traditional, he keeps the product as it is, while Robuchon is a lot more about technique and precision; it’s either good or no way. We had to measure the asparagus, it’s really precise. Working with him made me a chef today, having those little touches, being intolerant of certain things, I definitely learned a lot working for Robuchon for three years , which wasn’t easy, but it was good. “At the time I was working for Tomonori Danzaki [at Robuchon] who was even more intolerant. One day I got a plate pushed back at me because the onion was just a touch out of position.” How did you end up in Russia? “After five years in Vegas it was time to do something else. Originally I was supposed to go for the opening of IDAM by Alain Ducasse , in Doha, but then a position in St Petersburg, Russia, needed to be filled at miX by Alain Ducasse so I took it in 2011. It was a big jump for me from sous chef to executive sous chef but it was good, especially arriving in a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture. “We have a bad impression of Russians but they are actually very humble and loyal people who greeted me with open arms.” What was it like working there? “At the beginning, we imported a lot, then we started working with farmers. When I first got there, they used to deliver us what they said was a baby lamb, but it was actually mutton, a big, overgrown lamb. They would also deliver the meat in garbage bags from the back of their car. It was shocking at first, but after a year they adapted to our hygiene requirements. “Sometimes we would get fresh salmon from the back of the car and it was frozen because in the winter it would be minus 26 degrees Celsius. It was a challenge we had to adapt to.” What is Ducasse like? “He is a very humble person, and he’s always thinking about what to do next, who is the next chef, who is the talk of the town. The gentleman does not stop eating. He is in the kitchen with you talking, and if there’s a bowl of peanuts or fresh green peas he will talk to you and nibble whatever is around him. “He’s constantly interested in new flavours, new profiles, ready to test anything.” Alain Ducasse on plane crash that changed the course of his life How did you like working in Macau? “In 2015, I had the opportunity to open Fontana at Wynn Palace. It was a big change in my career path, going from 120 covers to 600 for breakfast and 200 to 400 covers for lunch and dinner. I learned organisation is prime; if you don’t order enough you’re in trouble. “We bought whole pigs for the steak house, the premier cuts went to the steak house and the secondary cuts went to me. We cured the legs and shoulders to roast for breakfast and the other cuts we used for stews or sausages. It was the same for the beef. But after almost a year there I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do.” You’ve been at The Murray for almost two years. What are you doing at Popinjays? “We’re doing modern European cuisine, using local and imported ingredients prepared with French cooking techniques. There are things we think the local market would like but then they dislike it or find it too salty, or different cooking methods you think they will like but they don’t. “For example, we like to steam codfish, but local palates find it too meaty. I try to put monkfish on the menu, which I like because of the meaty texture, but local customers say it’s cottony, not cooked enough or overcooked. People here really like white fish but soft flesh. Maybe it’s because they compare it with Cantonese steamed fish.” Do you have a favourite ingredient? “I love fish. Monkfish is one of my favourite fishes that you can cook like a piece of meat, but it needs to be cooked medium rare otherwise it’s too gummy. Dover sole is also a great fish that is more of a childhood memory. My grandparents have a house on the French island of Noirmoutier, in Vendée. My grandfather fished and Dover sole was the big thing. “Stingray is also one of my favourites in France. You can get it here, but you have to eat it right away otherwise it goes bad very quickly. Locally, I love celtuce [also called celery lettuce or asparagus lettuce] – I like the raw flavour and smell it has, and it goes well with lamb or fish.” Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .