Culinary is not simply cooking good food for people to enjoy. For chefs, each dish carries symbols of their effort and creativity, and dare we say, the essence of their whole lives.
Ten teams of young chefs have gathered to compete in the Rising Chefs Challenge, and chef Trinh Van Bac’s team got the crown.
Trinh Van Bac is currently the head chef at 88 Gastronomy. He previously worked in some of the most challenging kitchens in Vietnam, such as InterContinental Hanoi Westlake and JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi.
With Vietcetera today, he not only shared the joy of winning but also discussed his boundless journey towards his passion.
How does it feel to win the Rising Chefs Challenge?
Before the Rising Chefs Challenge, I’ve been in a few competitions overseas. I was sent to compete in Malaysia 10 years ago, and then Singapore and Macao, winning different prizes in each.
First place is only as important as you make it. Of course, I’m happy, but more than that, it’s a chance to learn more and experience more.
My advice for young chefs competing is to not get too obsessed with the prize, it would just add unnecessary weight on your shoulders. Just treat it as an opportunity to experience more.
What do you usually think about when cooking?
I’m always thinking about how to keep it together. Even if the sky was falling, I would need to keep calm and still make good food.
There have been a few times when I was not as calm as I would have liked to be. Once, I had to grill beef for about fifteen VIP guests, and it turned out pretty bad. I felt defeated. I kept ruminating about my mistake and just wanted to dig myself a hole. Even after I got home, I could not stop thinking about it for 2-3 days before finally pulling myself back up and vowing to never repeat that mistake.
Everybody makes mistakes. The important part is what you learn from them.
I used to work with a three-star head chef, and his manner was very collected. He did not have to get aggressive to make beautiful dishes, and looking at him made me realize I was only a drop in the ocean, so I should strive to learn from people like that.
Why did you start your fine dining journey?
I studied culinary for ten years and then worked at a restaurant on Hai Ba Trung street. After an accident, I changed jobs and moved to a hotel where they had fine dining service, starting as just a busboy and moving up the ladder over time.
You could say that fine dining is the highest level of the culinary scale. It’s not just seasoning or methods, but it’s also about how to incorporate ingredients and be creative with it — take molecular gastronomy for example.
Gradually I developed a fondness for this career, for being a fine dining chef. That’s when I made it my path. My dream is to become a three-star chef and have restaurants in my name not only in Vietnam but internationally.
What do people say about your personality as a chef?
They say I’m fastidious. In the kitchen, every element including the décor or how to slice an item has to be up to standard.
I am fastidious, but not because of emotional triggers like… having just argued with my girlfriend or going through life bumps, but because it’s necessary for the food to be elevated. I have to be fastidious so my food can be of its best quality.
What do you think is the biggest advantage for young chefs nowadays compared to when you were starting?
Back then, it was really hard to do research and pose questions about culinary arts even if you paid for it. Nowadays, it’s no longer such a challenge for the youngsters.
With easy access to basically anything through the Internet, you can now learn how to make different types of food, much faster than we could before. Learning to make an existing dish is one of the first steps for any chef before they can create their own culinary masterpiece.
Creativity in this field does not only mean creating new stuff from scratch. As chefs, you have to learn from various sources in order to be creative. Learning is not copying. We can always jazz up the old into something new and fresh.
Has your mom tried your cooking?
If she did, she’d scold me hard! Vietnamese cuisine is not my forté; I specialize in Western cuisine. My mom would have had a lot to say about how I season.
That’s why I hardly ever cook for her. Even when I was home, I’d only make “easy” dishes like blended crab soup, charred pork, or hotpot.
How long do you think it would take for your “three-star chef” dream to come true?
I’m no stranger to setting goals. Before, I always set 1-year or 2-year goals for certain positions, but right now, to achieve one star, I will set a 7-year goal. It seems long but only over that much time, I believe, will I be mature enough in the profession.