Interviewed August 2011
Gunther's is one of the top restaurants in Singapore, with classical French food.
Q – How long have you been cooking professionally?
I’ve been cooking professionally since I was 15 years old where I was helping out at my parent’s restaurant back in Belgium. During my stint, I cooked a lot of homemade traditional Belgium dishes; from simple dish such as fries, sauces, fishes, meats to desserts. And this is where I learned how to use fresh ingredients to cook the dishes using my personal touch.
Q – Where did you train to cook?
I began my professional culinary training at Bruges Culinary Institute Voor Voeding (IVV), Ter Groene Poorte in Belgium at the age of 16. Because I love to cook so much when I was young, I pretty much sacrificed my weekends and holidays so I can learn a little bit more than others.
Q – How would you describe your style of cooking?
I enjoy cooking simple, honest and down-to-earth food by using fresh ingredients. And I like to be creative when it comes to cooking, like doing little steps here and there so I can bring out the flavour of each ingredient. I don’t like to work too much on the product because I respect the nature; keeping every ingredients in their natural shape and its natural flavour that sticks to the pan. It’s like…nothing like a lobster that look like a lobster and nothing cooks better what the nature has to offer.
Q – Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
Well, it’s not really a secret, but to me you need to grow in the kitchen, basically from the roots! From washing plates, cutting ingredients, preparing recipe and etc. And it takes a lot of hard work and passion to open a restaurant. Stay humble and be open to criticism, especially from customers, doesn’t matter it’s a good or bad feedback. That’s the way to improve and to move forward, particularly in Asian countries. And always remember…cook with your heart.
Q – Do you have a “signature dish” or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
My signature dish definitely has to be the Cold Angel Hair Pasta with Oscietra Caviar and this is the dish that I enjoy cooking the most! Simply because I do not copy from others and it is a very spontaneous dish. Everyone loves it!
Q – Do you have a favourite ingredient?
I don’t really have a favourite ingredient but I like to use seafood for most of my dishes. It’s fresh, alive and kicking! Some of the seafood ingredients that I use often are Alaskan king crab, blue lobster, mushroom, clams and also any fresh vegetables.
Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
There are a lot of eateries to choose from, especially here in Singapore. You have French, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Chinese and the list goes on. It will be difficult to choose one but if I were to pick, I would go for Cantonese food. Otherwise, I do enjoy some comfort food as well at a small bistro in Singapore called Le Bistrot Du Sommelier.
What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
Kitchen is a place where I called home. So when I’m in the kitchen, it gives me a lot of energy to cook. Often when it’s busy in the kitchen, I do reprimand some of my kitchen staff but I don’t take it personally…it’s just work! When I’m out of kitchen, I’m a different person altogether. I consider myself as a laid-back person and nothing like what I am in the kitchen.
What would be your “last request” dish?
(Laugh) Well, it’s not something which I would look forward to but I guess it would be some simple home cooked food.
Is there another chef that you most admire?
That has to be Chef Alain Passard, my mentor when I was working at L’ Arpège in Paris for 5 years. He basically changed my whole idea of cooking. He taught me how to respect a product and how to treat all ingredients equally regardless of what they are or where they came from. And that’s how I learned to bring out the best of the ingredients I use; where at times, I need to be conscious on how to use the ingredients as well. Besides cooking, he also taught me to take charge not only at kitchen, but also at dining room. Building relationship with customers and service staff is one of the key to successful restaurants and till today, I still continue to practice it no matter how busy I am. He also taught me to open up my ideas and have a vision; after all…the sky’s the limit! Taking his advice, I continued to work even harder and after awhile, I got addicted working with him and his style. Besides, it’s not just cooking alone that drives me, it’s my hobby.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
Simply put, its either you have it or you don’t. Plus, it is not something which you can develop over the years by just learning. At the end of the day, what is most important is that you must have the heart in becoming a chef. If you don’t have it, you might as well give up. And when you are in the kitchen cooking with your hands, you got to have feelings. Let loose all your senses and let your mind be free when you cook. That’s where your inspiration comes in and that’s when you see, listen, taste and feel everything clearly. Love what you do, build it over a long time and make good choices along the way and before you know it, you can also own a restaurant that you can call…home.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?