FOURty Seconds with Philippe Vételé and Emmanuel Stroobant

11 Jan 2016
6 min read
FOUR speaks to these two top chefs after a recent collaboration at Restaurant Saint Pierre in Singapore…

What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

Philippe Vételé​|I am inspired by the place where I live. The seaside, my feet on the sand, the sweet smell of the wind, the great tides, rocks, seaweeds. I love the iodine scent. When I am home I breathe the sea and I transpose it in my cooking. It is more than air, it is the like a scent of iodine from the seaweed.

Emmanuel Stroobant |Travelling is definitively my inspirational source. I am very fortunate to be able to visit a lot of places, not only Asia but also Europe, US…pretty much everywhere. I am a very visual person, I like to see. Often language is a barrier, mainly when I travel in Japan or China and therefore we communicate with our hands and eyes, we (chefs) translate in tastebuds, in smell and it makes the experience even more emotional.

Describe how you see your own culinary style and how it has evolved over the years…

PV | I was not born in Brittany. At first, I did not really understand what the land has to offer. I used to come here (in Brittany) for holiday, we used to scratch the rocks, look for oyster and mussels …but I did not understand straight away, it took me a few years. Now I wish for my guests to follow me on this journey and for them to understand my cuisine.

ES |I started with an extremely classical French background. Ginger was alien to me! When I left Belgium for Australia, I discovered a new world, not only figuratively: the heavy Asian influence was obvious and it piqued my curiosity, I was thirsty for more. I wanted to learn and explore Asian food with Asians in Asia! When I first arrived in Malaysia in 1997, it was like an explosion of flavors, spices, and products. I went crazy and was like a kid in a toy shop wanting to touch everything. With time I thought that I should be focused and restricted myself to Japanese and French. Both cultures share the same respect for product, season, presentation and even rigour in training and execution. With time, I realised that I could get amazing ingredients closer from home (Singapore). Some small producers had started growing beautiful ingredients. I am slowly re-introducing some spices from a passionate spice maker, soy sauce from a neighbour’s friend, growing my own herbs, getting some fermented product from a young producer…

Tell us a bit about what made you decide to hold a collaboration dinner at Saint Pierre in Singapore…

PV |As I like to meet people while travelling, I also enjoy discovering new horizons. Singapore is a discovery for me, a very interesting one indeed as it is a multiracial country with 3 gastronomical cultures (the Chinese, the Malays and the Indians). It is a crossroad of savour, spices and products I discovered for the first time.

ES |I am always extremely happy to welcome guest chefs. Not only for me and our guests but also for my team. It is a way for them to experience new methods, new product. With Philippe it was all about discovering a part of France that we sometime forget about: people often go to Paris or Lyon and think of truffle and grand cru wines, Brittanny is one of the most underrated places where gastronomy is paramount. People in Brittany are proud of their produce, proud in a good way, and with Philippe, he reminded me of the joy of simplicity.

How did you decide on the menu?

PV |I wanted to highlight “my” Britanny. I brought my oysters, they represent one of the fundamental element in my creations. Not only that but also line caught seabass and sardine that are two great Brittany ingredients. I also love the association of artichoke, oysters and foie gras…even though foie gras is not really a product from Brittany, but it creates an interesting link between the two others component. Of course I also brought my lobsters. I served them with garlic confit and wild mushroom, making it a very interesting dish in terms of flavours.

ES |When hosting a guest chef, I always allow them to create the dishes that they would like to and I will fill the blanks. In this case, Philippe’s dishes were oyster, fish and crustacean. I had a choice to do a full seafood dinner, but in October we have access to some nice produces like white truffle, venison, apples. There were no dessert on his list and I decided to complement his menu with a few courses. I also wanted to show him a beautiful regional product: pineapple; when ripe, Sarawak pineapple is intense, rich, sweet and it is a very unique product.

What did you feel you learnt from the collaboration?

PV |I truly enjoy exchanging, sharing, and meeting new people. I feel like an ambassador. It is certainly not about giving lessons but rather a way to express myself, like if I had a story book to tell, a lovely story to offer people.

ES |I hoped our guests experienced the cuisine of a truly remarkable chef and his passion for his region and its product. Philippe is like a little gem to be discovered. The aftermath and success of the event proved that we hit the nail on the head. Humble, simple and generous are some words I would use to describe Philippe and his food was a pure reflection of his amiable character.Besides sharing knowledges on products and recipes, I discovered a man that I believe I can call a friend now. And if it is only that I think I have gained a lot…friends are rare and precious.

What food trends/movements are exciting you right now?

PV |Looking for the very best produce excites me. I spend a lot of time with my suppliers, I go to small markets every day, I buy my carrots from a small producer and will go for small turnip from another producer and yet another one for tomatoes. This is what truly excites me, to look for the best produces. It is not about trying to amaze people by building an ultra complex recipe. Rather, it is about keeping the simplicity of a very simple yet top ingredient and mainly to respect this product. This is pretty much my philosophy.

ES |I love the idea of sharing food. We live in a world where technology has changed the way we communicate, where we text each other over the table, where we pay more attention at our digital screen then the creation on the plate. I am excited to bring back dishes for communal sharing, putting our phones down and having a real conversation over a meal. I think it is important that this simple tradition carries on to the next generation.

What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?

PV |I had a lot…but but one of the memorable moments is when I get my second michelin star. It was a great pleasure, it was extraordinary. But of course also the pleasure of sharing the company of other chefs, taking time to exchange, we are a great family that I love a lot.

ES |I believe that the best has yet to come…

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?

PV |I think I lost too much time trying to understand my region. I was very young when I started, I was 25…and I had a heavy financial responsibility on my shoulder, I was afraid not to succeed. I first had to focus on the viability of the company, only after I went to a quest, quest of knowledge of the region where I had decided to live.

ES |Take care of your health. There are a lot of things money can’t buy…health is one but we often realise it when it is too late.

What is next for the both of you?

PV |I wish to be able to pass on my culinary knowledge. I won’t be here forever and finding good disciple, good partners, to pass them this passion for the research of quality. I wish to concretize this truly.

ES |Education is an important part of our journey. It has come to a point in my life where I think it is important to give back. I am not sure what’s next, but certainly it will have to do with passing on our skills and knowledge to the next generation.

What are your guilty pleasures?

PV |I love playing golf, I practice yoga, I swim everyday…but my golf is something that is very important for me. I am 17 handicap and wish to reach 15…you see I am almost there (smile). Also golf is a nice way to share a conversation, I used to play with my brother who was my first business partner and also the father of Alban (my sous chef) and also play with my son…there is this family osmosis that I value. When I don’t play for a while, my wife will tell me…”hmmm you are lacking golf”.

ES | Yoga (I practice at least 90 minutes a day) and top quality sashimi! Even though I am a vegetarian, I cannot resist!

Find out more about and here…