Our fondest childhood memories always include mom’s home cooking.
For French chef Vincent Leroux, it’s tomates farcies, or stuffed tomatoes.
Being in the food business for so long, Leroux has tasted all varieties of this traditional French cuisine. But for him, his mom’s version is the best.
The reason is simple: She always cooks with her heart.
It’s also in the home kitchen, in the suburbs of Paris, where Leroux learned many of his recipes — in fact, her mother taught him a new one every week.
And so at the tender age of five, he decided to be a chef.
Leroux became so passionate about food and cooking. He started experimenting and creating his own sauces.
“When I was six, I created my first salad dressing — mixing one spoon of mustard, two spoons of vinegar and five spoons of sunflower oil,” he recalls.
After finishing high school, Leroux enrolled at the Tecomah school for culinary arts.
In the business, everyone starts at the bottom and works their way up in the kitchen. Leroux was well prepared for the challenges, working from 8 a.m. till midnight every day.
“I am a perfectionist. Be humble and learn, especially from your difficulties. Maintaining good relationships is also crucial and I have learned a lot from others,” says Leroux.
His inspirations for his cooking come mainly from the fresh ingredients themselves. He says when he walks into the market, he can vividly imagine the aroma and flavor of the food.
This is an extraordinary gift for a chef.
“I can come up with a new recipe under one minute. I also know the outcome without having cooked the actual dish as I can imagine the chemistry between the ingredients in my head.”
Soon after graduating from Tecomah, Leroux worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants to hone his skills and increase his knowledge of the culinary arts.
At 23, he became the executive sous chef at Lucas Carton, a three Michelin star restaurant in Paris.
He describes his work experience at Lucas Carton as “unbelievable”.
“I worked from 6 a.m. till 1 a.m., taking only a five-minute lunch break. It was so busy but that’s why I felt so excited. There was simply so much to learn.”
The kitchen was organized like an army unit. Soldiers of different ranks were assigned their own tasks — sauces, meat, fish, spaghettis and desserts.
He believes that in order to be a good head chef, one has to accumulate at least 10 years of experience and work their way up from the bottom to the top.
Leroux left Lucas Carton after one year as he wanted to broaden his horizons. He visited many places and worked in many kitchens — from Switzerland to Britain, from the Caribbean to Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.
In 2013, he decided to establish a career in Hong Kong after he closed his own restaurant in France.
“The tax rates in France are too high. I worked 19 hours a day each week, and even my mom had to help out in the restaurant as a waitress.”
Leroux finds Hong Kong a lot safer than Paris, and is impressed by the kindness and generosity of the people here.
“Once I left my cellphone in the seat and luckily I got reminded by an honest citizen. Whenever I get lost, there is always somebody who doesn’t mind explaining the route to me in great detail.”
Working as the director of the Institut Culinaire Disciples Escoffier, a professional culinary school in Hong Kong, Leroux insists on buying fresh ingredients in the market himself every morning.
Zou-san (good morning) and mo-man-tai (no problem) are the most frequent Cantonese lines he uses with the locals.
“Life isn’t easy, especially to those in the market who work so hard selling their home-made products. In order to show my respect for them, I don’t engage in haggling.”
“Housing” is another issue that affects Leroux. Hong Kong is the only place he’s been to where he can’t come up with a garden to grow his own veggies.
“I can’t dig a hole in Happy Valley to grow carrots, can I?”
But the crowded living space in Hong Kong doesn’t really bother him and his new wife as they often visit friends.
He plans to obtain his permanent citizenship here before deciding, if ever, to move to a new destination.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 28.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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