The Disciples Escoffier organisation follows in the footsteps of Auguste Escoffier – the chef quoted as “roi des cuisiniers et cuisinier des rois” by the French press, meaning “The king of chefs and the chef of kings”. Escoffier helped raise French cuisine to the global prestige it holds now, as well as having many of his recipes, kitchen techniques and management practices embedded in the culinary world to this day.
The Vietnam chapter of Disciples Escoffier aims to promote fine dining and gastronomy wherever it touches base. #iAMHCMC sat down with Ms. Tu Tho, the young and passionate General Secretary of the Vietnam chapter. Having started four well-run restaurants before the age of 30, she is well versed in the culinary scene, and has many interesting points on Vietnam’s ever expanding culinary scene.
While fine dining has been achieved in spades at certain venues, gastronomy is not so close behind in Vietnam.
Disciples Escoffier Vietnam has no limits on what food it overlooks – pizza, couscous or pho – the end goal is to promote culinary art and push young chefs to do their best. The many educational events Disciples Escoffier Vietnam has established for training chefs have been free, since culinary schools in Vietnam do not have the budget to bring over Michelin star chefs for courses. Disciples Escoffier can help in this aspect.
Perhaps the most exciting element of bringing internationally renowned chefs to Vietnam’s ancient kitchen is the new techniques and eye-opening perspective a single person can bring to a table of passionate young chefs. For example, if you have a heavy meal, you should have something sour on the side, as this helps generate saliva, which in turn helps digestion. Nuoc mam and lemon – the balance of salty and sour – served alongside many of Vietnam’s dishes – helps digestion. While the fish sauce and lemon have always been there, the knowledge of why it enhances a meal has not. A travelling guest chef may point this out to Vietnamese students, and now they have a new outlook on traditional meal accompaniments.
Perhaps the most exciting element of bringing internationally renowned chefs to Vietnam is the eye-opening perspective a single person can bring to passionate young chefs.
In the end, Disciples Escoffier wants to add something to culinary schools in Vietnam, not replace them. “If you don’t educate the young, we’re done,” remarks Tu Tho.
Young chefs under 25 may participate in The Disciples Escoffier Young Talent Trophy, which awards winners with the chance to train with the Disciples of Escoffier Vietnam chef. This year, the winner, Nguyen Ngoc Tan Tai from Noir Restaurant, will attend the Asia Final at the Restaurant and Bar Show in Hong Kong.
The organisation has a master class open to anyone. Tu Tho remarks how technical skills are easy to learn, but inspiration and creativity are the difficult part of training young chefs to come into their own.
Seven years ago, when Tu Tho moved to Vietnam from France, there was little else other than street food. Now the culinary scene is starting to boom, fine dining is affirming its place. Fine dining restaurants have everything well balanced, nicely presented, but the consistency and creativity is not as solid as elsewhere in the world.
Technical skills are easy to learn, but inspiration and creativity are the difficult part of training young chefs to come into their own.
In Tu Tho’s words, fine dining is an excellent experience in every aspect: service, food, drinks, environment and so on. Gastronomy is when the food is unexpected, when it surprises you and shifts the way you think of a certain ingredient or recipe – an experience, to say the least. To get a Michelin star in Vietnam, Tu Tho says a restaurant needs both a great team and consistency, on top of the fine dining experience.
To finish off our chat, I asked Tu Tho what her favourite eats are in the city. Here’s what she said:
Vietnamese: Street food
French: Le Corto, l’Olivier (Sofitel), Trois Gourmands
Italian: Opera (Park Hyatt), La Bettola
Japanese: Zen (for the set lunch), Nhan Sushi-Bito (for the sushi), Osaka Ramen (for ramen)
Chinese: Ocean Palace (for dim sum), San Fu Lou (for dim sum), Crystal Jade Palace (Lotte Legend)