“When I was young, I liked to eat and was always around the kitchen, so I started to cook. One time, my father took me to Lyons [in southeast France], where the Bocuse d’Or – the world culinary championship and food show – is held every four years. He took me there because he knew I liked being in the kitchen, but I didn’t know much about it. “By chance, we happened to meet a famous chef called Régis Marcon [of the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon]. I met him at the show because he had an exhibition and I chatted with him for about an hour in the hallway – I had plenty of questions. “He opened my mind and guided me on how to start my career. He told me about a hotel school called Le Renouveau [in Saint-Genest-Lerpt], and at 14 years old I started studying there, where the teachers were Michelin-star chefs.” What was culinary school like? “The first two years you don’t really cook, but learn about cuisine, food and history, and I did some serving. At 16, I started apprenticing. It was really hands-on in that I learned how to make beds, clean rooms, serve and cook. While I was at the school I got to see Marcon two or three times a year for six years. He had close ties to the school because he is a passionate chef, trying to develop younger ones in the kitchen or hospitality. He was not a teacher at the school, but he came to do some demonstrations. “When I graduated in both kitchen and service after six years, I was attracted to pastry. It’s like science; very precise. I spoke to Marcon again and he suggested I study for a year at a pastry school near Lyons and then intern with him for a year. I worked for him as an employee for another year.” Michelin on his mind: how a Hong Kong chef earned two stars in 8 months What did Marcon teach you? “I still see him at his restaurant whenever I go back to Lyons. He’s a traditional chef who taught me the importance of ingredients and people, to put all your heart onto the plate and give the best to the guest. In November, lots of mushrooms grow in his area and he would wake me up at 4am to go into the forest and pick mushrooms with him and bring them back and cook them. “Everything was a learning point with him, he liked to share his knowledge. After two years, I wanted to go abroad and he pushed me to travel, but to where he told me to go.” Where did he send you? “To Atlanta, in the United States, with one of his chefs, Joël Antunes, who used to work for him. I was 22 years old and it was my first time abroad. I couldn’t even say two words in English. I was the pastry chef at his restaurant for two years, and then Joël said I should go back to France, to Michel Troisgros. “He has had a similar experience as Marcon, same background, passion and interest in teaching youngsters. Michel was opening a restaurant in Paris, so I went back to Lyon to get trained in his restaurant before moving to Paris to open La Table du Lancaster [now closed]. “He went travelling earlier than Marcon, and he went to Asia, so his food has Asian influences. I have him to thank for my citrus signature touch. His food is modern but with a traditional base, the same as with me in pastry.” You were there for two years. Where did you go from there? “I wanted to go abroad again and, in 2006, I went to Dubai. I didn’t even know where it was on the map. At that time I was very young to be the executive pastry chef. The hotel was massive, with 26 restaurants so it was a huge challenge for me, managing 60 to 70 people.” What was it like working in the Middle East? “It was a big shock for me, coming from fine dining, where you focus on one restaurant, but here it was a big hotel. At the same time, it was fun overseeing different concepts, restaurants from all over the world, trendy bars, fine dining, steakhouse and cake shop. “I also worked at the Shangri-La Abu Dhabi, and then joined the St Regis Abu Dhabi when it was still under construction, so for eight months I wore a helmet and yellow jacket. But after five years at the St Regis, I had spent 10 years in total in the Middle East with my wife and two daughters, so it was time to move.” Why was the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok so important to you? “This was a hotel I had heard about when I was 14 years old in hotel school. It was ‘the’ hotel in Asia, and few hotels in the world have this massive reputation. It had four cake shops around the city plus one in the hotel, so it was quite big in terms of production. During the high season, we had 110 people in the pastry kitchen.” What else did you do there? “The hotel has a culinary school with about 15 students every year who are in their 20s. I gave theory and practical classes. As chefs we teach by example, but for theory it was a challenge because I had to explain what flour is, all the types of flour and how they react with heat and water. But for me it was good to relearn things, and I had to be prepared because the students had lots of questions. “The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is the hotel for the Thai royal family. I did a lot of catering for Princess Sirivannavari [Nariratana] , especially chocolate creations. She studied in Switzerland and speaks French. When the Thai royals enter the room, everyone is literally crawling on the floor. I was told to bend down and not make eye contact, but when I met her, she shook my hand and spoke French to me. “After three and a half years I moved to Hong Kong, in March 2019, to replace Yves Matthey, who had been at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong for almost 42 years.” French fine-dining chef in Hong Kong on being drawn to work in Asia What does Christmas mean to you? “It’s all about tradition. Flavours like gingerbread, praline, pecan and caramel are memories of Christmas for me. It’s traditional to have turkey, honey-glazed ham, pecan tart, gingerbread, and mulled wine – it’s comfort food. But I like to have a little twist in modernity. For example, our gingerbread cookie has a traditional gingerbread base from a 30-year-old recipe, but then we try to make it a bit more fun and playful. “I haven’t been back to France for Christmas for a very long time, but my memories are not of turkey, but oysters, foie gras, lamb or roast beef, and then a yule log, plenty of food, family, snow, and cold. We would start eating at 11am, finish at 5pm, go for a walk at 5.30pm then come back and start dinner. By the end of the holidays you’d gained 10kg [22 pounds].” Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .