Allowed to pursue his passion for cooking by his parents, Le Vu Binh decided to bypass a university education and has not looked back since. He spoke to Viet Nam News about his present and future plans.
Selected by a committee of international chefs led by the world-famous three-Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse, Vietnamese chef Le Vu Binh from the Hotel de l'Opera Hanoi is among 17 chefs from Viet Nam to join the first-ever Gout de France/Good France to celebrate French gastronomy on March 19. The event will be celebrated in restaurants across 150 countries all over the world. Chef Binh talks with Viet Nam News about his passion for cooking as well as his excitement about joining this international event.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you take up a career in cooking?
When I was a high school student, I was fascinated by cooking clips that I found on the internet. After graduation, my classmates went to university, but I decided to learn how to cook at a vocational school. I was surprised that my parents supported me, but they said it would help me to find a job.
After a year at the school, which was mostly spent on theory, I started cooking at a small Italian restaurant. That was the first time I was able to cook a European dish.
After two years sharpening my cooking skills at that restaurant, I moved to work in the hospitality industry and gained experience at some of the big hotels in Ha Noi before I applied to work for Hotel de l'Opera Hanoi in 2010.
I was promoted to be Chef de Partie after three months and became Executive Souschef in 2013.
Inner Sanctum: What memorable experiences do you have from your job?
I left the hospitality industry in 2006 to build my own business, but that failed so I returned to a kitchen job at a big hotel in 2009. On my first day, I couldn't even de-bone a chicken because my cooking skill is a little rusty. It was a confusing time for me.
Another memorable moment was when I first created a chocolate dessert using doi seeds (a kind of ethnic pepper) to add a unique flavour. The dessert was well received by guests, who often asked to meet me to learn about my creations. As you know, a chef's happiness comes from seeing connoisseurs enjoying his creations and applauding them.
Inner Sanctum: What will you introduce to connoisseurs at Gout de France on March 19?
Each participating chef has been asked to design a six-course menu, featuring hot and cold starters, fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, French cheese and a chocolate dessert, accompanied with French wines or liquors.
It took me about a month to come up with the menu. I even had some sleepless nights as I was thinking too much about the new dishes and how to combine Vietnamese ingredients to create haute French-style dishes.
I finally decided to prepare a menu of fusion dishes such as salmon terrine tartare, baked brie in puff pastry, lobster thermidor, smoked duck breast in thyme, and sweet potato and basil mousseline with red wine and cacao sauce.
For this menu, I prefer to use local ingredients, including Nha Trang lobster, Vietnamese duck, and other fresh fruits and ethnic spices.
Inner Sanctum: Do you feel any pressure taking part in this international event?
I am proud to join international chefs at this event. Although Gout de France is the first international event I have taken part in, I do not feel any pressure. I am very excited as I have a great chance to prove myself and to show my creativeness.
I'm lucky to have support from the hotel's Executive Chef Le Van Ninh, who is among the very few Vietnamese executive chefs working for 5-star hotels in Viet Nam. I've also received a lot of encouragement from my team, who are like a family to me.
Inner Sanctum: Gout de France will be a one-night-only event, so does that mean only a limited number of connoisseurs will have the chance to savour your specially designed menu?
With the aim of introducing French cuisine to as much foodies as possible, we are also running a similar five course menu at our hotel's Cafe Lautrec Restaurant this March. The price is very reasonable, at only VND550,000 per person.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, which characteristics should a successful chef have?
There are several elements that create a successful chef. However, in my opinion, they are creativeness, studiousness and patience.
Inner Sanctum: How do you describe yourself in three words?
Wow, actually, I've never thought about that. [After a while] Passionate, patient, and decisive.
Inner Sanctum: During your 12 year career, you've progressed from an inexperienced cook in a small restaurant to an executive souschef at a five-star hotel. Are you happy with your achievements?
Yes, I've been through different phases in my career. My current title somehow reflects my efforts over the past decade. However, I'm not completely satisfied. I want to learn more, especially about the cuisine in South America and the Mediterranean.
I also want to make more new creations using wild species which are popular among Viet Nam's ethnic groups.
What do you do best apart from cooking?
Trying to be a good person. — VNS