We recently visited the Westin Beijing Financial Street to meet with and to interview, their Director of Kitchens, Chef Stéphane Tremblay who hails from Canada. As executive Chef of this 5 star hotel, Stéphane has had over 20 years culinary experience with leading luxury hotels and restaurants. Hospitality industry has taken him from his home in Canada to France, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Before this appointment, he was the Executive Chef for Le Royal Meridien Shanghai, the flagship Le Meridien hotel in China famed for its gastronomic creations. We got to sample his terrific dishes at Prego, while we conducted this interview with him..
1. What prompted you to relocate to Beijing?
After doing 2 hotel openings in shanghai in 2005 and 2006 and working more than 4 years in shanghai I was looking for a new challenge. At the time the westin Beijing financial street was looking for an executive chef. It’s a great property in a great city, and when the offer came needless to say, I snapped it up. It was definitely great timing for me!
2. What do you find most exciting about Beijing’s burgeoning culinary scene?
I first visited Beijing in 2001 for a six sigma training. It was a bit sad back then. The pre and post Olympics have since given Beijing a complete face lift. Now you can get cuisines from all over the world here. Even star chefs open restaurants in the capital city. Albert adria, the brother of ferran adria from el bulli was here 2 years ago to do a cooking demonstration.
3. How does the culinary landscape differ from your hometown? How do you see yourself adding to it?
Montreal is a multi ethnic city; you can find food products and restaurants from all over the world in my hometown. I have travelled across 5 continents now , and I like to use my experience to add a touch of exoticism to some of the dishes I cook. Take for example Maple syrup – it comes from my home town and I love cooking with it.
4. What changes do you see coming to this city?
Less hutongs (which is a shame). Modernization, clearer skies, new hotels, new office buildings, nicer architecture, high end shopping center and of course more cars and traffic.
5. How does your current position differ from your role at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai and your other previous positions?
The westin Beijing financial street is a very busy hotel. The previous 3 hotels were pre opening and opening. So you start from scratch; you hire, you implement your standards, you create your menu, you train the associates. When I started at the westin Beijing financial street 3 years ago there was already an established standard. I had to fine tune some items. At the end there is always a lot of work to do in a hotel and so you cannot get bored.
6. How does your city of origin affect the menus you create for The Westin Beijing?
I like to cook light and simple and of course with some fresh products. Sometimes I like to experiment with ingredients native to my hometown, such as the maple syrup. Sometimes I take an Asian spice and infuse it into European classics.. such as the Tiramisu. I’ve made this good old fashioned Italian dessert with a pinch of 5 spice, and it went down rather well with the guests.
7. What dish, item or method of preparation would you say is most representative of your years cooking in fine-dining restaurants?
I like to use fish and seafood as they are quite versatile materials to work with. I like light and less transformed products. I am totally an advocate for cooking closer to the farm and using minimal frozen foods, but am pro exotic ingredients, spices and herbs to make the dish a bit different.
8. Your life’s journeys have taken you many places. Is there one place that you really call home?
Of course Montréal because of its culinary diversity. My second home is Thailand because of its intricate mix of sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter.
9. Tell us about any kitchen catastrophes you might have had?
Khao Lak, Thailand December 26th 2004, the Asian tsunami struck le meridien resort. I was having breakfast at that time, the entire resort and the kitchens were a total lost. Even the stainless steel tables were bent in 2!
10. Do you have any advice for up and coming Chefs?
To be a chef is not exactly called having “a normal job”. You have to see this as a passion; you have to be curious, dedicated and serious if you want to succeed. Learn your basics properly, before you start to mix up all kinds of ingredients and think that you have created a recipe. It’s like music; you need to know your base before you can compose!
Chef Stephane is a well travelled and experienced Chef. He talked about his life in Montreal and how that has influenced his cuisine and cooking style. As we talked, dinner was served.
The starters of beef tartare was moist, succulent and was well balanced with the tart sweetness of the apricot. The rather characteristic musky flavour of the truffle added a warm dimension to the dish. The fava beans imparted a curious nuttiness to the tartare which I found exciting and stimulating.
Prosecco went well with our anitpasti. We soon moved on to the Pinot Grigio, to go with our mains.
Another great starter. Who can say no to the ever so decadent foie gras. The rhubarb sorbet was a great match too, I might add.
And lately, I’ve noticed that rhubarb is being served with foie gras everywhere.
Since I love rhubarb, it’s a pleasure to find it suddenly showing up in such elegant company. It’s also a surprising turnaround for this vegetable that masquerades as a fruit and is often merely pie filling. Rhubarb has such an aggressive nature that it needs to be sweet-talked into being palatable. I remember how we used to be fed this at mass-hall in Cardiff – always too sweet and mushy as hell. Yet it is so vibrant a harbinger of spring that chefs are willing to exploit it in new and unusual ways!
The Black Angus beef tenderloin was arguably the most simple dish but one of the best I’d had all week. A medium rare tenderloin that was hard to fault. Red and bloody, just the way I like it. Super tender, seared tenderloin served with a sweet and savory pumpkin puree and porcini mushrooms. Sweet jeebus, I was loving every bite of it.
Of all the deliciously fresh delights Chef Stephane cooked up that night, this dish is my personal favourite.The buffalo mozzarella is a very authentic Italian product – the sauce tastes fantastic and the ravioli cooked al dente was just perfect for mopping up the fresh tomato coulis and black olive puree! Super delectable.
Tiramisu 5 spice – a great spin on the Italian classic. I loved this end to the night- fusion italian dessert at its best.
A successful interview, with a great dinner and company to boot. I cannot ask for more! I hope to get a chance to dine at Chef Stephane’s table again in the not too distant future!
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