Star French chef hits Asia’s streets

He’s among an elite coterie of chefs who command the sort of respect usually accorded royalty, but when Thierry Marx comes to Hong Kong there’s only one place you’ll find him searching for a meal.

“I hit the street as soon as I come here,” says an excited Marx. “There is nothing like street food, especially in Asia. It is so very important to the development of different cuisines — I get so much inspiration from the street.”

For Marx, named 2005 chef of the year by gastronomic bible Gault Millau, there is no such thing as “slumming it” when it comes to food.

“You cannot ignore what is on the street,” says the two-and-a-half-star Michelin chef, in Hong Kong for a brief spell in the kitchen at the plush Sheraton hotel’s Oyster Bar.

“That’s where new ideas are tried and tested. Wherever I go on my travels I make sure I know what is being eaten by the ordinary people.”

The motivation behind the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in the heart of the Bordeaux region, Marx cultivated his love of the Asian street during a four-year spell in the Tokyo kitchen of Japanese star chef Kiyomi Mikuni.

“In Japan, some of the best food is found in the small cafés and stalls that spring up throughout the city — it’s good, spontaneous, cheap and above all healthy food,” enthuses the bull-headed but soft-spoken maestro.

Marx is among a lengthening list of top French chefs that have looked to Asia for inspiration and to take advantage of the region’s growing wealth and demand for French haute cuisine.

Once dubbed the greatest chef of the 20th century, Michelin three-starred Joel Robuchon has three eateries in Tokyo and one in Macau alongside his Paris, Monte Carlo and London restaurants as his worldwide L’Atelier chain.

Nine-starred super chef Alain Ducasse has extended his Spoon franchise to Hong Kong and Tokyo to complement his top-rated businesses in Paris, Monte Carlo and New York.

And Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who spent years working in Singapore, has lent his name to restaurants in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Although Marx has made a name for himself with robust hearty dishes like his Pauillac lamb creations, he is renowned for incorporating many of the techniques he picked up while working in Asia.

“Japanese cuisine is very similar to French cuisine in the use of ingredients and in the importance of presentation,” he explains. “There is a similar passion for food among the two as well, so it has been quite easy for me to bring the two together.”

Among his Asian-styled signature dishes are translucent slow-cooked eggs in Parmesan cheese and broth, which he adapted from a Japanese dish, and his pan-seared sea bass with oriental onion compote, which also makes liberal use of sesame oil, a popular accompaniment to many Asian cuisines.

While the variety found in Asian street food nourishes Marx’s muse, he also believes it could point the way to a solution for a growing gastronomic crisis in his European home.

“Street food in Europe now means fast food — and that usually means bad food,” he says. “If all the youngsters are going to eat is beefburgers with cheese, then the obesity problem we have will only get worse.”

He believes that if he can harness the essence of Asian street food and transplant that back to France, then the younger generation may grow used to better and more healthy dining.

“Good street food is good food,” he says. “If we can get fast food that young people eat to be better food — using fresh ingredients and not too much fat — then maybe we can produce a healthier generation of youngsters.” — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Hong Kong restaurant boasts robot staff

With a whir and a flash of lights, a robot whizzes to the restaurant table and takes a customer's order, while a second races to another table to deliver plates of steaming food. This isn't a scene from a science-fiction novel. Rather, it's the daily routine at a new diner in a suburban Hong Kong shopping centre.

Luxury checks in at new Hong Kong hotels

Hong Kong's high-end hotel sector just got more luxurious with a spate of new openings and refurbishments designed to cash in on the Chinese city's newfound position as a top travel destination. Spurred by a strong economic recovery from almost seven years of decline the city got its first new hotels in 15 years this autumn.

Sizing up the future of air travel

From private cabins with designer fabrics and en suite bathrooms in first class to on-screen virtual air attendants taking orders in economy, the future of air travel is going high-tech and high-style. Modern technology has made it possible for airline interior designers to fit jets with more gadgets in the expensive seats and still add vital centimetres to leg room in the cheaper rows.

Disney bets that it’s a small world after all

Roy Hardy's task was simple when he was hired in 2002 to market Hong Kong Disneyland: make Mickey, Donald and company as familiar to families in China as they are in the West. To kids in the United States and Europe, where for three generations Disney's cartoons and movies have been a part of growing up, it may seem a no-brainer.

Mystery woman baffles Hong Kong authorities

She appeared from nowhere on a rain-tossed morning, sitting naked on a Hong Kong shoreline, unable to speak. Now she sits in a hospital bed, staring into space, mute and expressionless, her charts naming her simply as "Unknown". The mysterious appearance of the Western woman has put Hong Kong authorities in a bind.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday