June 14, 2009
Sweet pastry dreams
Chef Laurent Cantineaux knew he found his calling when cooking invaded his sleep
By Fiona Low
Since he was a child, Laurent Cantineaux has known that he wanted a career in the culinary arts.
The Frenchman says: 'I've dreamt about pastries since I was six years old.'
Today, the 38-year-old is the executive chef and co-owner of Cafe Atlantique, a French-Latin restaurant in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.
While he had initially wanted to pursue a career in pastry making, an apprenticeship in 1998 at the renowned Guy Savoy, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris, fuelled a passion for cooking instead.
'Cooking is more demanding, but I like the spirit around cooking,' he explains.
The talented chef has since worked in critically acclaimed restaurants all around the world, including Restaurante Le Scholteshof, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Belgium and Daniel in New York, which was rated one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by the International Herald Tribune.
'The pleasure of seeing people happy and enjoying my food is the best part of my job,' says Cantineaux.
In addition to his restaurant, he now also runs a catering service, En Escena, and the Gaga Galeria Gastronomica Culinary School.
The secret to his success, he says jokingly, is 'work, work and more work'.
'But, of course, a good organisation, trustworthy colleagues and discipline are essential as well.'
Gastronomes can try his cooking at the Harbour Grill & Oyster Bar at the Hilton Hotel from June 22 to 27, where he will be presenting a series of French-Caribbean creations.
Who has been the greatest influence in your career thus far?
Working with Daniel Boulud, one of the most renowned chefs and restaurateurs in New York, was an intense experience. He is both a great person and an extraordinary professional.
Working there, I got to learn how time-honoured French techniques can be applied to fine seasonal American ingredients.
What is your philosophy when it comes to cooking and food?
To always stick with the concept of the restaurant, to respect the ingredients and to be aware of the client's taste.
I also aim to enhance local flavours available with both classic and modern French cooking techniques.
What was your favourite childhood dish?
Aligot, which is a dish made of melted cheese blended into mashed potatoes, with ribeye steak and Bordelaise sauce.
As a child, my mother would cook it for me when I was being good, so it was always a special occasion.
What are the two most important items in your kitchen?
Butter and olive oil.
Butter is in almost every dish in French cuisine because it adds colour and flavour. I like butter from Normandy in northern France. It is of good quality and has a nice salty flavour.
Olive oil is also important because it is found in most Mediterranean, Spanish and Italian cuisine. I have no preference about the type of olive oil, just that it be of a good quality and extra virgin.
Do you like Asian cuisine?
Yes, I would die for good crispy skin pork belly or dumplings.
I like pork as I find it the most tasty meat. Also, it looks perfect cut out into squares. I also like dumplings for their simple, light taste and the fact that they have almost no calories.
I tried both on my first trip to Asia when I came to Singapore some years ago.
What is your signature dish?
Black seabass wrapped in arrow root with tomatillo coulis, Swiss chard and quinoa.
The seabass fillet is wrapped in thin slices of arrow root and cooked in a pan with clarified butter until it becomes golden and crispy.
What is your ultimate guilty food indulgence?
I like good traditional bread, especially the big, round, wholewheat loaves found in the Poilane bakery in France. It is like country bread with a crunchy crust and a slight acidic flavour due to the fermentation process.
You were awarded Best Chef of the Year by the Venezuelan Academy of Gastronomy in 2005. How do you feel about that?
Good. I got the award after being in the country for six years, so I was appreciative of the recognition. I am also proud to be the first French chef to get the award.
With so many accomplishments under your belt, what's next for you?
I will be opening a new restaurant on an island in the French Caribbean next November, featuring French-Latin cuisine.
It will be a small, cosy place with a big yard in front and pictures on the walls. I want a place that will make diners feel at home.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
I don't want to think about it, but every time I get a special meal, I enjoy it like it would be my last.