No matter where we are from, many of us have fond food memories… mom folding dumplings, red sauce bubbling away on the stove on Sundays, the aroma of just-baked cookies wafting through the house. But for chefs, there is that first aha moment. The bite of food that made them fall in love and inspired them to take their own cooking to the next level. The one that made them want to go from cook to chef. As the industry continues to reel from the effects of COVID-19, our chefs shine a light on those dishes that drew them in and remind us why dining out is so magical and worth fighting for.
Daniel Calvert, Head Chef, BELON
I left Per Se in New York City at age 26 thinking I was a very good cook and that I was towards the upper end of my career. Then I moved to Le Bristol Paris, tasted the food and realised I truly knew nothing. In a way, that restaurant was everything Per Se was not. Le Bristol was less than half the capacity than Per Se, which was very mise-en-place-heavy and streamlined. At Le Bristol, everything was cooked to order. Every lobster, cut of meat and vegetable was broken down on the spot, which meant that dishes had to be incredibly refined. One that stood out above the rest was a beautiful langoustine dish wrapped in a celery jelly with cream and caviar. Tasting something that simple, done correctly and served at the right temperature was a real awakening. It was at a class above anything I had ever eaten. At BELON, we run our kitchen both ways. Our space is small, so we have to be prepared, but we also cook a lot of things to order, because once you learn the best way to prepare an ingredient, you do not want to go back.
Jowett Yu, Head Chef, Ho Lee Fook
The dish that influenced my career the most is one that I have never actually eaten. It was 2005 and I was fresh out of culinary school. I was deep into a researching session and stumbled upon the Sounds of the Sea by Heston Blumenthal of UK’s The Fat Duck. This was before social media, so a dish this extra was mindblowing to me. It incorporates music and props while you eat for a completely immersive experience, exemplifying that there is so much more to being a chef than putting ingredients on a plate. As a young cook, this dish symbolised possibility and made me want to be a chef who pushes the envelope not just in cooking, but in the whole experience of dining.
Braden Reardon, Head Chef, Carbone
I have been an adventurous eater for as long as I can remember and started cooking at a really young age. When I was 11 I tried escargot and foie gras for the first time at a restaurant in Montreal. I cannot recall the restaurant name but what I do remember is the outstandingly distinct and rich flavours. These game-changing dishes made me appreciate food in a different light and it was probably the first dining experience I remember that inspired me to become a professional chef.
Theign Yie Phan, Head Chef, Le Garçon Saigon
In 2010, towards the start of my career, I had the pleasure of dining at The French Laundry in California and it completely changed the way I think about food. The iconic Oysters and Pearls definitely lived up to the hype and to date is the best dish I have ever had. Eating it taught me about finesse, and to me, that quality is what differentiates a good cook from a great cook. Now, when I create dishes, I always strive for each to not only be delicious, sophisticated and beautiful but also have a point of view and a level of thoughtfulness that is evident upon first bite.
Billy Otis, Head Chef, Taqueria Super Macho
When I was 19 years old I tried my first real Thai green curry. I had only been working in western restaurants up until then, so this was a real eye-opener for me. It sparked my curiosity to learn more about other cuisines, the types I previously had no exposure to. Now, every time I eat something new I do so looking to recreate that same sensory reaction, hoping it will motivate me to push myself and explore even further.
Tony Ferreira, Executive Chef, Wan Chai, Black Sheep Restaurants
I vividly remember the first time I ate the 36-hour Braised Beef Cheeks at The Pear Tree in Vancouver 14 years ago. Everything about it, the tenderness of the beef, the consistency of the sauce, the deep, rich flavours were just so perfectly executed. At the time, I was two years into my cooking career and this was the first meal I had actually saved up for. It was well worth it because from that moment on I realised how important precision, patience and attention to detail are, both when cooking and running a kitchen.