Today’s Chef in the Spotlight is someone I met at the Norwegian Seafood Gala dinner. He was responsible for co-preparing that night’s wonderful spread with Chef Frank Naesheim and what a fantastic spread that was. He is non other than Chef Marcel Kofler, the executive Chef of Mandarin Oriental KL. Chef Marcel Kofler who was born in Switzerland, brings with him 20 years of culinary experience acquired from working in leading hotels and cruises around the world. Here is our interview with him.
1. Hi Chef Marcel.. so can you tell us why you wanted to be a Chef?
I was an active kid (I am still now) and had a knack for anything involving physical work, I was asked to shortlist 5 crafts I am interested in, I choose crafts which involve artistry but also keep me out of offices. Like Cook, Goldsmith, Farmer, Seafarer, and even male nurse was on my wish list…most of those have things in common, they are physically intense jobs, they are perfection and detail oriented and they are directly involved in looking after or serving people. Cooking won because it involves all of those elements mentioned.
2. Can you tell us about another skill that you have, that no one knows of?
I can sail (got a captain license). I have never owned a car in my life and for those who still ask me for my mobile number, no I never had a cell phone either.
3. We all know that running a kitchen can be super stressful so how do you de-stress and let rip after a hard day’s work?
On Sunday mornings at 6:00am I take my bike, and bike up all the way to Genting Highlands, while blasting tunes like AC/DC! Then, I come back down and spend the rest of the day with my wife and kids.
5. What brought you to Malaysia?
Why the opportunity to live in south east Asia, of course! I visited Malaysia for the first time in 1991. I always had an interest in the cultural diversity of this country.
6. What is your favourite Malaysian dish?
I have a weakness for all the gooey and gelatinous kuih’s and yes I do eat the King of fruits- Durian in all its deliciousness!
Eww, I don’t! I am the rare Malaysian who does not like Durian! (ciki)
7. By the way, I’m curious as to who is your favourite Cook/Chef and why?
No one to single out, there have been many personalities I admire (known and unknown) who have impressed and shaped my view on food and cooking.
8. What is your favourite travel destination for food?
My recent trip to San Francisco has once again impressed me. Though the dining scene is casual, there is a lot of focus on local produce of superb quality. On the other hand I have fond memories of exotic countries in South America and Africa which have left me awe inspired. I love the way food there is celebrated and enjoyed.
9. If you could live in any one place in this world where would it be and why?
On one of my best travels where along the Scandinavian west coast and I was especially fond of the town Bergen. They have beautiful mountains and the ocean right at your door step. Both of these elements have a inspiring effect on me.
10. Can you name a cook book that has inspired you?
Brillat-Savarin The physiology of taste, one of my favorite quotes “Look at gourmandise under any aspect you please, and it deserves praise”.
11. What was your biggest catastrophe in the kitchen?
Somewhere between Gibraltar and the Azores, on one of my Cruise ship Atlantic crossings we got into gale force winds and high swells in the night. A large wave managed to push open the chillers and their contents. I lost my entire saucier mise en place in an instant, the ship had full occupancy and no chance to go shopping on the open ocean!
12. Do you have any advice for budding cooks/aspiring chefs?
Find a mentor! Develop mentoring relationships, either inside or outside the company. There are studies which have shown that chefs who excel and are quickly promoted, are very often those who have a mentor guiding them. Mentors are also great sources of information and career guidance.
500gr Gruyere cheese
100gr Appenzeller cheese
100gr Fribourger Vacherin or Racelette Cheese
5-10 gloves of garlic
500 ml white wine (or chicken stock)
2 tbl spoon flour
Nutmeg and fresh ground black pepper
Combine all dry ingredients well in a special clay pot (Caquelon), add the wine or stock and heat over medium heat until boiling, continually stirring in a figure 8.
Enjoy this fondue with chunks of crusty baguette, if you can imagine a mountain hut with snow outside the door at minus 20 degrees, you are in heaven.. OK, even if you are in sunny Malaysia, you can still enjoy this fondue, no problem!
14. Do you think that the old “use it or lose it” axiom holds true for cooking?
Especially true in cooking, as our profession is a craft, we can only get better by repetitive training over and over again.
15.When it comes down to technical skill vs. putting your heart into your cooking, which do you think is most vital to producing good food, and why?
Absolutely both and in perfect balance
16. Do people cling to or seek out gourmet food when times are bad and the economy shaky? Do they use food as a security blanket?
No. Well with regards to the economy first, I think the economy was in dire straits not too long ago, but things are looking up.. and honestly, the future can only be brighter. But if you ask me to talk about the future, that is a tough one. We chefs live in the present and cook for today. What suits us chefs are that we are able to communicate with food and that’s because it is subjective like art, never boring, never the same. We are able to show character and personality and maybe people are getting more educated and learning to appreciate that more now, in this day and age. Our modern cuisine today is actually entertainment for some, and don’t we all love to be entertained! The other comforting aspect is that with today’s media and information flow we know more about food then we used to, that makes us more confident and reassured to make the decision what to dine on and what to steer clear away from.
17. Do u think fine-dining restaurants has raised people’s standards as a whole of what they will and will not eat?
Not just fine dining restaurants, even though they are forerunners and trend setters, but there are ethnic restaurants even small deli shops selling top quality products which are just as important then, if not more, than the fancy, glitzy places.
18. Has it affected the restaurant industry?
Our industry constantly evolves, since Antoine Careme in the 18th century has elevated the art of cooking from the dungeons , i.e. kitchens below ground, to the celebrated haute cuisine we now know it to be.
About Chef Marcel:
At barely 20 years of age, he ventured out into the sea as a first cook on the cruise ship Royal Viking Queen. Drawn in by the various cultures and having caught the travelling bug, he went on the become Senior Sous Chef the The Royal Hotel in Durban, South Africa. He then went on to travel across the world and it was his stint as Executive Sous Chef at The Hilton in Shanghai, China and The Peninsular Hotel in New York that he explored the culinary world of Asian cuisine and learned the secrets of leading a large culinary operation.
Prior to joining Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, Chef Marcel was part of the pioneer team as Executive Chef to launch the 700-passenger luxury cruise liner the Seven Seas Voyager under the Regent Hotels and then settled in Boulder, Colorado as a Culinary Consultant. Chef Marcel feels that his extensive travelling through all continents of the world is the key to finding inspiration and respecting the diversity of flavours and tastes of the world. Paring that with good old kitchen techniques and traditions, he sees the culinary world as a vast open playground to explore.