July 16, 2014
A new master cooking class in Danang proves that two many chefs can actually sweeten the broth. By Jeninne Lee-St. John.
Published on Jul 16, 2014
The Vietnamese have a saying—khong sao—that means "No problem." It also can be translated as, "Forget about it; we can still be friends." The ubiquity of this phrase is verbal validation of the Vietnamese skill of moving on. The ongoing French influence in touchstones from the Romanized alphabet to civil law to, of course, cuisine, seems to say: "What's a little colonization between old pals?" Thus, it's an amusing irony but little surprise that the first Michelin-starred chef to open a restaurant in Vietnam is a Frenchman, Michel Roux, and that his La Maison 1888 in Danang is named for the year of the official establishment of French Indochina (1887) plus one, to signify the Asian lucky number triple eight.
"Sharing is one of the best things in life," Roux says in explaining why he'll be offering master classes quarterly at La Maison 1888, and why he'll be bringing along another Michelin-starred colleague at least once a year. For the inaugural event in May, 2014, Roux was joined by Giancarlo Perbellini, and this power pair, who have earned a total of nine Michelin stars, whipped up three days' worth of collaborative 10-course degustation dinners and elaborate lunchtime cooking classes—because anything less, Roux winks, would've been "lazy and lousy."
Working in the kitchen with six chefs led by the outsize personality that is Roux, whose Waterside Inn in Bray, England, has held three stars longer than any restaurant outside of France, is a frenetic, fun affair not unlike playing and watching a tennis match at the same time. La Maison's Chef de Cuisine Stéphane Colliet is walking us through butchering a poussin (cut it between the legs and breast, then pull the extremities apart until it resembles a flattened toad) and Roux chimes in, "Attention, mes enfants!," sending our heads swiveling in the opposite direction to learn how to prep a whole salmon (descale it with a scallop shell, for starters). Perbellini, who has a mini-empire of gastronomic and casual eateries in Verona and this spring opened La Locanda in Hong Kong, will teach us tiramisu two ways later, but meanwhile hovers about, making sure we don't cut our fingers—or the chicklet's shoulders—off.
Roux preps a whole salmon.
Perbellini is all understated gentility, but that doesn't prevent him from being playful. In making the simple syrup for mascarpone, for example, the sugar and water should be heated to 121 degrees or "until it has the consistency of, come si dice?... la morve." How you say it is "mucus" and figuring that out sends us all into fits of laughter—reminiscent, one assumes, of that which must echo through the kitchen of Roux's cooking classes with his grandkids every summer ("I give them grades!" he jokes). These two chefs have an easy rapport, and the tennis match continues with dinner, to which they contribute alternating, complementing, palate-empowering dishes. The volley of mascarpone ravioli, topped with foie gras and saffron caramel (Perbellini) and panfried lobster with white port sauce and ginger-flavored vegetable julienne (Roux) is worthy of Federer-Nadal, though the other eight courses are grand slam level as well.
"You don't need a French passport to be a cook," Roux insists (and, in fact, his favorite cuisine is Italian), but it helps to have a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur like him as your guide if you want to throw together, say, a casual salmon in puff pastry with beurre blanc for a relaxed champagne lunch. "C'était mon plaisir, mes petits," Roux says when we thank him for dedicating six hours to teach us dishes he mastered decades ago—but we can practically hear him thinking, khong sao.
The chef's table at La Maison 1888
La Maison 1888 InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula, Vietnam; danang.intercontinental.com; prix fixe from VND2,700,000 per person; cookery master classes approximately VND8,200,000 per person, but contact the restaurant for schedule and prices.
La Locanda Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong; diningconcepts.com/LaLocanda.