Today’s Chef in the Spotlight, is none other than the charismatic Emmanuel Stroobant. He recently cooked a terrific meal for both me and Cumi, and not only did we love his food, we also found his way of life totally captivating. Married to a Malaysian lass from Seremban, Emmanuel finds that his heart is closest to the street food culture of Malaysia. Talking to him at great length, you know he is an incredibly kind person, untainted by stardom and fame. He is also thoroughly disciplined and if you are wondering where Emmanuel gets his ripped physique from, it’s the Yoga that he practices religiously every single morning. With so much on his plate, you wonder where he gets the time! Anyway, here is our interview with the man..
1. At what age did you know, you wanted to be a chef?
Even if I was cooking (for myself) at a very young age – I guess 8 is reasonably young – I never really intended to become a chef until I started washing dishes for a summer holiday job. I truly enjoyed the ambiance of the kitchen but I really started professionally at 17-18 which is considered late by European standards.
2.Tell us about your hometown, your mum, your aspirations growing up as a kid.
I am originaly from Belgium. A small city called Liege about 100km south of Brussels. My parents were running a café when I was born and I grow up smelling braised meat and reduced sauces. The whole Stroobant tribe are foodies and it is a tradition for the men to cook the starters and mains while the ladies prepared the pastries and desserts. At 8 we moved to the country side, my parents closed the café and started another business. I grew up milking cows, harvesting all kinds of vegetables, checking the chicken house for fresh eggs. My first inspiration was to be a veterinary. At 11, I was in boarding school specializing in sports and sciences. I had an accident at 15 and was unable to keep going with sports and decided to go towards criminology. As I needed money to pay for my studies, I started working as dishwasher and you know the rest.
3. Did you have a best friend growing up?
Yes, his name is also Emmanuel! We followed each other from primary to high school, to catering school, to army (compulsory in Belgium until 1988) and we are still in touch as he is the executive banqueting chef for a massive operation in Las Vegas. For him a “small day” is 5000 pax, and isn’t needed at work and a big one would be 36000 pax. Not sure how he does it!
4. What prompted you to relocate to Singapore?
An opportunity 🙂 Singapore is a very good place when it comes to fine dinning and wine! People are well travelled and it is easy to get most ingredients,
Having said that, I still prefer street food in Malaysia!
5. Tell us how you ended up opening not one, but several successful restaurants, to your name, in Singapore.
Saint Pierre started in 2000, roughly one year after we relocated from KL. The company I was working for wanted to move to a larger premise and I was uncomfortable to cook for a large place. We decided to open a small place with around 50 seats. The restaurant did well and as opportunities arise we have slowly grown the group with the help of “hands-on” partners. Each partner is from the industry and they manage their own outlet. This allows us to grow slowly without having to physically run 7 or 8 restaurants.
6. What is your favourite travel destination for food?
There are many. Japan is probably my number 1 favorite destination. I discovered amazing stuff in Peru and it is a very underrated destination. I also love Mediterranean food, so from Casablanca to Rome. It is actually a very hard question to answer.
7. Name a cooking technique you cannot do without.
Low temperature is relatively new and allows us to do amazing things from large banquets to molecular experiments.
8. Name a person who has inspired you.
I always maintain that my inspiration comes from my wife Edina!!! She nags so much that to get her to stop I will find inspiration!!!! Ha ha ha… She is extremely critical and to please her you literally have to move mountains. She will keep pushing the boundaries, and in this case it is great she challenges my creations.
9. What do you find most exciting about Singapore’s burgeoning culinary scene?
It is like watching an action movie: it changes all the time, new restaurants, new celebrity chefs. It is a very fast pace and it is a constant challenge. It is also a risky market but that keeps the adventure interesting.
10. How does the culinary landscape differ from your hometown? How do you see yourself adding to it?
In europe, as a restaurant get established it becomes easier and easier to run. In Singapore it is the opposite! The older you are, the harder it is. I think here, they like “new”, at home we enjoy “classic”. So, for me it is simply observing what the market may be lacking and providing it! A good example was Brussels Sprouts: there was no “traditional” belgian restaurant, yet the locals love seafood and beer…
11. What changes do you see coming to this city?
I guess the new “integrated resorts” have made a big change. Now I am seeing more “chef/owner” opening their little eateries. It remains a small market and we need to be prudent not to get the scene saturated, However, Malaysians and Singaporeans love their food and that keeps the chefs busy!
12. How does your city of origin affect the menus you create for your restaurants now?
Each restaurant has a different concept and I adapt the menu according to their individual personality. Again, the closest from home would be brussels sprouts.
13. What dish, item or method of preparation would you say is most representative of your years cooking in fine-dining restaurants?
As chefs get older (or more mature) their styles get more refined. Mine is no exception and dishes I used to do 10 years ago where I would combine 10 differents ingredients, mixing Japanese elements in classical french techniques are now moving to a very simpler style by selecting just 1 or 2 exceptional ingredients and trying to alter as little as possible their original flavors. A japanese momotaro tomato – simple peeled and sliced- with a parmesan ice cream and a drop of extra virgin olive oil is simply delicious!
14. Your life’s journeys have taken you many places. Is there one place that you really call home?
Singapore I guess, after spending 13 years here 🙂
15. Tell us about any kitchen catastrophes you might have had?
There are many, there is one I particularly remember back 10 years ago, I was invited to cook at the shangri-la hotel in KL for the 10th anniversary of the AIDS foundation. I was running a 50 seat restaurant and that night they had 400 guests! I never did 400 before. To add top the pressure some other famous guest chefs were there, Tetsuya amongst them!
I did a crazy dish – a trio! Meaning instead doing 400 I was doing 1200! One of the dish was a scallop meringue…and the hotel did not allow fresh egg white. They only had “bottled” egg white and they were impossible to whisk in meringue!. The next dish was a lobster and tomato confit…and find myself alone to cook and clean 100 live lobster in about 2 hours. It was a very hard evening and I learnt that keeping things simple is probably the best option when you do not cook in your own kitchen.
16. Do you have any advice for up and coming Chefs?
Be smart.. in other words..
17. Finally, tell us about your new Programme 36 Ways to Live.
CIB was about molecular and fusion. Now, it’s more about wholesome cooking. Since I now have kids, I’ve even ventured into cooking for a school canteen.. healthy wholesome food. No more Chef in Black sort of cuisine. This new series 36 Ways to Live is about 36 recipes that I have learned from the people around me, and that are close to my heart. I hope to share those insights via this programme!
Watch the Video:
Try to spot C&C on TV with Emmanuel Stroobant!
The very talented Chef Emmanuel Stroobant, stars in this Latest and Newest AFC Original Production, entitled 36 Ways to Live. 36 Ways to Live is set to debut, Wed, 12th of September 2012, 9:30pm and will air four times per week. In this 12 X 30minute cooking series, he shares 36 recipes that have made a mark on his life. He teaches viewers how to eat, live and enjoy life to the fullest.
Catch us on TV, in Episode 12. We will be on AFC Astro Channel 703 with Emmanuel Stroobant.. and he actually cooks for us.. we had to eat a burger elegantly on TV.. not easy but loads of fun:) The shoot was held at Signature Kitchen, Kota Damansara. Stay tuned for the series!
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