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The Imprint of Vietnamese Cuisine on "Chef of The Century"

Wednesday, 02/22/2017 13:47
The decision of traveling to Vietnam and becoming one of the judges in the professional cooking contest “The Golden Spoon” was not easy for Eckart Witzigmann – “Chef of the Century” who is always busy.

Mr. Eckart Witzigmann was grading at The Golden Spoon contest 2016 finale in HCMC on Dec 6th – Picture: Quang Dinh

Eagerness and curiosity were the main motivations for Eckart to accept the invitation. He admits that his discovery after staying in Vietnam is more than expected.

Compared with other Asian countries’ cuisine, what makes Vietnamese foods more distinguishable? Do you like the Vietnamese tastes?

There is a variety in Vietnamese flavors. I am amazed by the strong ingredients and its rich tastes such as the sour or bitter leaves.

The fact of creating several dishes by combining these special ingredients really inspires me. If Japanese cuisine has an image of elegance, and sophistication along with standardized high-quality products, Vietnamese cuisine on the other hand specializes on multiple flavors.

Sometimes, not everyone can stand the strong and unfamiliar flavors. Fish sauce for example is not always a favorite seasoning for foreigners. However, in my opinion, that is the distinctive feature of Vietnamese cuisine. In the end, it depends on how the chef can balance out the ingredients.

Vietnam is on its way to include traditional dishes in 5-star menu. How do you think about this?

Fusion (an combination of traditional and modern dishes) has become an international culinary trend. Vietnam is not excluded from the list when promoting traditional flavors. A successful fusion dish requires several factors including presentation, tastes, etc. Hence, it is the chef’s duty to emphasize the distinction.

When being a judge, I have seen the contestants preparing traditional Vietnamese dishes with a bit of contemporary twist using traditional ingredients. Sometimes, simple and sophisticated dishes are easy to get attention.

Vietnam possesses an absolute advantage in terms of ingredients and local spices. I have seen fresh vegies, fresh fish, and unique seasonings in most of Vietnamese family kitchens. The freshness in these ingredients plays a crucial role in preparing excellent and high-quality dishes.

The developments in your culinary career are worth to become a remarkable story for anyone who is pursuing career as a chef. Which qualities have most impact on your success?

Heavy work volume forces me to keep trying. Looking back at my career path, I realize traveling is important. Give yourself an opportunity to travel.

I have travelled all around the world and learnt, discovered a lot of things. Famous German poet – Wolfgang von Goethe has stated from 200 years ago: Don't stop your curiosity! You “lose the game” when you say: “Oh I know what it is”. A person who claims that they know everything actually know nothing.

A professional chef has to keep learning, looking for new solutions in order not to repeat himself/herself in the dishes. I enjoy the feeling of successfully preparing a new dish using new seasonings. My restaurant changes its menu on a daily basis. Tablecloth, spoons and folks are also changed accordingly. Thus, the customers won’t feel bored when visiting many times.

Mr. Eckart Witzigmann savors different Hue dishes in a Vietnamese restaurant in HCMC – Picture: Quang Dinh

What are your advices to the current Vietnamese chefs, who want to internationalize Vietnamese cuisine?

In order to win any contest, a chef must win others’ heart. Beside factors such as cooking experience and creativity, I highly evaluate the sense of humor.

I have seen a lot of potentials in young Vietnamese chefs because of their young ages, hard working, etc. I am confident that they can compete with other chefs from different countries. Time is the only factor they need. I have spent 10 years to practice. After that I have my own 3-star Michelin restaurant in Germany. It was the toughest time for me and also for my colleagues and volunteers.

It is not easy to give advices within 3, 4 sentences because each chef is an independent individual in different restaurants and in varied situations. You should practice a lot in order to participate in international cooking contests such as Bocuse d’Or, which gathers the best chefs on the world.

I highly encourage you to place your creativity in traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Mr. Eckart Witzigmann, one of the four most popular chefs on the world with the title “Chef of the century”, has come to Vietnam as a judge of The Golden Spoon 2016 finale in the beginning of December 2016. The contest is co-organized by Minh Long I and Business research & Business.

“I am impressed by how the contestants bring the fineness to the table by using Ly’s Horeca from Minh Long I” Mr. Eckart shares.

*** Eckart Witzigmann: “Vietnamese dishes have a variety in flavors, which are totally different from European foods. I’d want to emphasize that Vietnamese foods need more advertising since the foreigners haven’t had a chance to discover and savor the Viet-tastes”.

By Nhu Binh/ Tuoitre

Translator: Thu Pham

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