A Culinary Odyssey: An Exclusive Interview with Long Cuong, Head Chef of Esta | Vietcetera
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May 29, 2024
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A Culinary Odyssey: An Exclusive Interview with Long Cuong, Head Chef of Esta

Explores Chef Long Cuong's journey, his vision for Esta Saigon's future, and the inspirations behind his culinary passion.
A Culinary Odyssey: An Exclusive Interview with Long Cuong, Head Chef of Esta

Source: Esta Saigon

In the bustling heart of Ho Chi Minh City, where tradition meets innovation, Esta stands as a beacon of culinary excellence. At the helm of this revered establishment is Long Cuong, a chef whose journey is as flavorful and intricate as the dishes he creates.

Taking over from the acclaimed Thuận Francis, Long Cuong has infused Esta with his unique vision, pushing the boundaries of Vietnamese cuisine while honoring its rich heritage. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Long Cuong's transformative experience of leading Esta, his aspirations for the future, and the influences that have shaped his remarkable culinary career.

Join us as we uncover the stories and inspirations behind the dishes that are captivating palates and hearts alike.

How has the experience been taking over from Thuận Francis, the chef of Flavors 2023?

Taking over from Thuận Francis has been a transformative experience. Francis is one of the finest chefs in Vietnam, having been named Chef of the Year by Vietcetera in 2023. His influence has profoundly shaped my perspective on flavors and the purpose of our work at Esta. He taught me to think deeply about the impact of every dish we create and to always strive for excellence.

More importantly, he instilled in me the importance of caring for my team, treating them with respect and kindness. Francis is more than just a predecessor; he is my brother, mentor, and career coach. His legacy inspires me daily as I lead Esta forward.

Chef Long Cuong | Source: Esta Saigon

What do you envision for the future of Esta under your leadership?

My vision for Esta is to craft a culinary narrative that captivates and delights our guests. We aim for perfection in every aspect of our service. To me, a great chef is someone who brings joy to their guests with each dish, and a great team is one that creates unforgettable dining experiences. We strive to achieve this through continuous skill improvement, innovative menu development, and fostering a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

What can we expect from your presentation for the Chapter Gala Dinner in Bali?

It is an incredible honor to represent Vietnam at the Chapter Gala Dinner in Bali, cooking alongside Michelin-starred chefs from around the world. This event is a unique opportunity to learn from the best in the industry, not just about food but also about hospitality. Guests can expect to experience Esta's food philosophy: humble yet flavorful. My goal is to showcase the rich flavors and cultural significance of Vietnamese cuisine, offering a memorable culinary journey.

Source: Esta Saigon

Can you tell us a bit about your early career and how you got started in the culinary world?

My culinary journey began in high school, where I joined a student group overseen by a teacher who encouraged us to excel academically and in the kitchen. We often helped prepare meals for other students, and I found myself increasingly drawn to cooking. At 19, I decided to leave college and pursue a career in the kitchen. I started working in various kitchens, from street food stalls to 5-star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City. It's been nearly nine years since I began this journey, and I can't imagine doing anything else.

What has been your most significant culinary inspiration throughout your career?

Food is a powerful connector of cultures and a keeper of cultural identity. It brings people together in ways few other things can. I love exploring different cultures through their cuisine, and this exposure makes me feel happy and excited about my job. It's this connection and joy that drive my passion for cooking and continually inspire me to create.

What's a standout moment in your culinary journey?

Several moments stand out in my career. I've won first prize in young chef competitions in Vietnam, such as The Future Chef 2020, East Meets West 2020, and Vietnam ProChef 2021. I've also been awarded Bronze Medals by the Japanese Culinary Academy (JCA) and was ranked #2 Rising Star Chef 2023. These achievements are a testament to hard work and dedication, but they are just the beginning. My focus remains on cooking exceptional food, treating my staff well, and exceeding our guests' expectations.

Source: Esta Saigon

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?

My advice to aspiring chefs is to stay curious and passionate about food. Never stop learning and experimenting. Treat your team with respect and kindness, as a happy team creates a positive and productive kitchen environment. Understand and appreciate the cultural significance of the ingredients you use, and always strive to bring joy to your guests through your culinary creations.

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