May 10, 2009
Junk the bad food
Christophe Megel, CEO of AT-Sunrice Academy, says there is much good food to choose from instead
By Fiona Low
After spending 10 years here, French chef Christophe Megel has picked up plenty of Singaporean traits.
His replies during the interview are peppered with 'lah's' and even a hearty 'wah lao!'.
The 39-year-old chief executive officer of AT-Sunrice Academy, a culinary institute located in Fort Canning Park, was recently presented the Fonterra Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Gourmet Summit 2009.
Born in Bitche, France, he is the third generation in a line of male chefs. No wonder then his choice of career, as he shrugs and says with a laugh: 'Do you think I had a choice?'
His childhood was spent helping out at the family restaurant, Restaurant De La Vallee, from the time he was old enough to wash dishes.
'In the beginning, I resented spending my weekends and school holidays peeling potatoes and cleaning the wine cellar while my friends were out playing,' he says. 'But eventually I learnt to appreciate it and the passion for the work took over.'
Since then, the talented chef has worked in restaurants all over the world, including three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse's Louis XV restaurant in Monaco.
He was also the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton Millennia, Singapore for six years before taking over the helm at AT-Sunrice in 2005.
On replacing his chef's hat with a teaching rule, he says: 'I thought I was born a chef and I would die a chef. But then I realised the scope of possibilities there are in the industry.
'Helping the next generation of chefs to fulfil their dreams is very rewarding and I go to bed every night looking forward to the next day.'
What is the most important lesson you have learnt as a chef?
To have no tolerance of mediocrity.
As a chef, you don't invent things, you merely refine something that has been done before. So there must be a relentless pursuit to be better and better.
How do you feel about winning the Fonterra Lifetime Achievement award?
It actually still hasn't sunk in yet.
It was such an emotional moment for me to gain this recognition from the community. I think it's something to take with a lot of humility.
How do you keep in shape with all the good food around you?
I'm fond of anything fast on wheels. I enjoy cycling and mountain biking which I do about three times a week.
I also like taking to the race tracks in Malaysia with my motorbike. It keeps me fit and helps me to de-stress.
What is your favourite local dish?
I like roast pork here. Because pork has a big role in traditional food where I come from, it reminds me of home. I have it at the Carlton coffee shop in Katong.
I like the roti prata at Casuarina as well and I always have that before going mountain biking.
I also love my Peranakan girlfriend's home-made laksa. She doesn't cook it for me often, that's why it's special.
What is your ultimate comfort food?
Saucisson, a dried French sausage. It's something like a European lup cheong (Chinese cured sausage).
It's hard to find in Singapore, so every time a friend comes from Europe, I get them to carry a whole suitcase over for me.
What is always in your fridge?
Comte cheese, which is a French cheese made from unpasteurised cow's milk. The crunchy, fresh flavours of the cheese remind me of the Alps.
It can be eaten before, during or after a meal and I have it most often with wine. I have it every time it is in season.
What is the one thing you will not eat?
Junk food. I have a strict no-junk-food rule in my house.
Perhaps it is because there was no such thing as junk food where I grew up. The first time I had a burger from a fast food joint, I was 16. It was my first and probably my last.
There is so much good food in the world, I don't believe in subjecting yourself to bad eating habits.
What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
Ortolan, which is a small bird that is eaten whole. The bird has never seen the light of the sun and it was considered a delicacy in France.
I had it when I was 18 and that was the only time. It is banned in France now. There is a whole ceremony involved in eating it and it was a strange experience.
What is your signature dish?
I don't think I have a signature dish so much as a signature style. My dishes incorporate Asian and Western techniques while exploring culinary techniques from the old and new worlds.
An example of this would be my lamb kebab with cauliflower mousse and shiso leaves.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
It does not matter what I eat, but I want to take the time to savour the food knowing it will be the last time. My family did everything from scratch. From things like milking the cows to whipping the cream and eventually making the butter. So I know the work that goes into each meal and I don't think people spend enough time appreciating that.