Vietnam Time

1/25/2018 3:28:38 PM

First Vietnamese Hotelier Award winner: Bring authentic street food tastes to 5-star hotel

(VNF) - Nguyen Cong Chung, Executive Chef at the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, is the first Vietnamese chef to win the Asia’s Chef Hotelier of the Year, after beating hundreds of chefs from 70 hoteliers in 14 countries. The achievement is not only a special milestone in Chung's career, but also an honor of Vietnamese chefs.

From uncertainty to passion 

Besides being the first Vietnamese winner of the Asia's Chef Hotelier, Chung has already been well-known as the first Vietnamese Executive Chef in 5-star hotels under the StarWood system since 2013.


Chef Chung (center) receives the Hotelier Award (source: Hotelier Award)

Despite advancing fast in his career, the 42-year-old Hanoian said that he stepped in the food industry quite by chance.

"My dream was to become a pilot but I was not qualified for the job," Chung shared. "Then I had to choose a vocational course to take and a relative who was teaching at a cooking school advised me to apply and I followed his advice."

Chung later decided to enroll the Hanoi Vocational College of Cuisines. It was 22 years ago. At that time, the cuisine industry was still new in Vietnam, and he once thought "It is kinda weird for a man to work in the kitchen". He didn't know, as he studied it, he found the job's potentials and his potentials, too. 

Walking on the right path

"Gradually I'd developed a love for it as I learned about it from books and the internet," Chung said.

After graduating from the college, Chung started his first job in a small restaurant. The work there was tough, since he had to work up to 14 hours a day in a narrow space. Nonetheless, the love for the job helped him quickly improve his skills.

He was later invited to work in an Indian restaurant in Hanoi, where he learned a lot of useful stuff.

Chung was afterwards recruited by Metropole Hanoi Hotel before coming to the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel when it was opened in 2004.

Nowadays, Chung has become a senior chef in Sheraton, who is confident in cooking a wide range of cuisines, from both the East and West. 

After over 20 years of working in the cuisine industry, step by step, he has established his own style, which is prioritizing fresh seasonal produce and local herb. His food is contemporary and creative.

With his experience, he was invited to train tourism and hospitality staff serving the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week (AELW) in Da Nang. In the workshop, ‘Pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) and “cha gio” (spring rolls) were the two major dishes Chung guided his trainee to prepare.

Vietnamese dishes, the biggest love

Chung has a special love for local food and he has shared his wish to develop local traditional dishes to a higher standard so they will win the appreciation of more gastronomes.

The chef revealed that working in a luxurious international hotel brand brings him chance to learn about the foods of different countries which provided inspiration, but he always save a special love for traditional Vietnamese cuisine, especially Hanoian dishes.

"I was more encouraged that when we served US President George W. Bush at the hotel during the APEC 2006 he asked us to introduce more Vietnamese foods," Chung said.

"People usually think that local food served at luxury hotels doesn’t taste authentic compared to street-side stalls, but this is not always true. I always tell my team that we are Vietnamese so if we can’t cook Vietnamese food well, how can we cook food from other countries. And I am confident that pho, spring rolls, or bun cha at our hotel all have a truly Vietnamese taste," he stated.

Chef Chung (L) instructs a junior (source: Tien Phong Online)

However, Chung admitted that he often faces difficulties finding sources of high-quality ingredients for some Vietnamese dishes.

"Vietnamese beef or fish or even pork usually fail to compete with products from Japan or Australia in terms of flavour due to poor farming and preservation techniques," he explained. "So I've decided to use Japanese or Australian beef for pho. While we keep the same cooking method, better ingredients are sure to bring better taste. And we've received good comments from guests."

As a creative chef, Chung is thinking about putting lobster in the spring rolls and some other high-quality imported ingredients in other traditional dishes.

  ( VNF )
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