Given Hong Kong’s obsession with French fine dining, it’s no surprise that this year’s newly minted 100 Top Tables Best Chef award winner Maxime Gilbert, and Rising Star Aven Lau, are pushing the boundaries of European influences in their own personal ways. Gilbert went through the traditional culinary route, with training and stints at restaurants and hotels in his native France, before fate brought him to acclaimed chef Yannick Alléno, at Le Meurice in Paris. Gilbert spent the next 10 years, off and on, with Alléno, who opened up the world to him by sending him to La Grande Table Française in Marrakech and Stay by Yannick Alléno at the Shangri-La in Beijing. 100 Top Tables 2022: the complete winners list revealed Hong Kong is the third city in the world [for] Michelin stars, and I think it is No 1 in diversity. It’s super exciting and a daily challenge to improve and innovate … there are so many new restaurants every year Maxime Gilbert, 100 Top Tables Best Chef winner “It was literally a shock. It was my first time in Asia, and also the first time I was living in a city of this size. It was a very good place to start an Asian experience, you can really feel the culture and the experience was amazing. It helped me to appreciate Hong Kong even more, and made me fall in love with this incredible city,” says the 39-year-old, who arrived in 2013, starting off as chef de cuisine of Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental before setting up the two-Michelin-starred Écriture as executive chef five years ago. After more than a decade in East Asia, Gilbert has developed an appreciation for regional ingredients and also the logistical efficiency of Hong Kong. “Japanese seafood is amazing and, here in Hong Kong, we have the incredible opportunity to receive deliveries daily from Tokyo, which makes it the freshest possible. Even from France, delivery is super fast in non-Covid times. So the mix of both these countries makes an incredible and infinite combination to play around and create dishes,” he says. By contrast, Singapore-born Lau’s training was mainly in Asia, except for a short stint as an intern (or “stage” in industry speak) in Denmark. He grew up not being impressed by his grandmother’s cooking but captivated by the kitchen and the wok as a young child. 10 years of 100 Top Tables: behind SCMP’s fine dining awards “I didn’t like fine dining in the past. All these French chefs had mothers or grandmothers who passed along recipes to them. I didn’t grow up eating that, only hawker food . A lot of these tastes were all in my mind, or memories from travelling,” says Lau, who has put Bâtard firmly on Hong Kong’s culinary map in the short one and a half years he has been there – with waiting lists of two to three months before the fifth wave of the pandemic struck. Hong Kong is so dynamic and people love dining out so it’s very competitive. You have to constantly come up with new dishes Aven Lau, 100 Top Tables Rising Star winner Like Gilbert, Lau was also lucky enough to meet several mentors, including chef Julien Royer of Singapore’s Odette and Daniel Calvert, previously of Hong Kong’s Belon and now at Sézanne in Tokyo. Although his cuisine leans towards French, Lau says he doesn’t really have a genre. “Of course I use French techniques but at the end of the day I just cook whatever I feel tastes good,” says the 28-year-old. A case in point would be the distinctive taste of the restaurant’s signature roast yellow chicken served with pilaf rice – that is more reminiscent of Hainan chicken rice than anything French. Both chefs are appreciative of the sophistication of local diners’ palates. “Hong Kong diners are the most knowledgeable in the world and their appreciation and understanding of gastronomy has grown exponentially over the years, including their expectations,” says Gilbert, whose specialities such as zucchini tart and the luxurious caviar tart are must-tries. “Hong Kong is the third city in the world [for] the most Michelin stars, and I think it is No 1 in diversity. It’s super exciting and also a daily challenge to always push to improve and innovate as there are so many new restaurants every year, so here the expectations are huge – but this is good.” Why Tirpse’s Rin Horiuchi was crowned the best pastry chef in Hong Kong Lau agrees. The young chef thrives on the challenge of coming up with new dishes for his patrons. “Hong Kong is so dynamic and people love dining out so it’s very competitive. You have to constantly come up with new dishes,” Lau adds. “Diners here also look for more exclusive ingredients, such as truffles and caviar but in general, they aren’t as open to anything too funky. I’m trying to carve a style of my own with dishes that people are familiar with and then I change the look and the technique to surprise them.” The onslaught of the pandemic has delivered the most challenging times for Hong Kong’s food and beverage industry, but Gilbert says that while the going was tough, his team has emerged stronger, more versatile and determined to find ways to please their guests. Meanwhile, Lau is looking forward to being able to travel again and glean more memories and inspiration. Read more about this year’s 100 Top Tables winners . Want more stories like this? 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