Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras has worked at the right hand of Pierre Gagnaire for many years. He helped Gagnaire at François Plantation in St. Barts, Sketch in London and, since May 2013, at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Pierre in Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. We caught up with Le Bras recently to find out how he likes his new city.
How is working in Hong Kong different from working in other cities?
For me, the big difference is the guest, the customer. They are very open-minded compared to other places I’ve worked in the past. Because the people love everything, there are no taboos about the food. They are very open to trying new produce or new textures. The big difference from London or St. Barts — because in St. Barts, 90 percent of the guests are from New York — is that there is no gluten-free, no dairy-free, no allergies, no nothing. Here, they travel a lot, and they want to test new things all the time — new textures, new produce, new herbs.
You’ve worked with Pierre Gagnaire for many years now. What are the most important things you’ve learned from him?
The most important thing: Believe in what you’re doing. Don’t try to copy anyone. Be part of your job, of what you’re doing. Focus on the quality and believe in what you’re doing. Don’t try to look at what they’re doing someplace [else]; just focus on what you’re doing. Believe and trust in yourself.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration for me is more about people I’m meeting, conversations and also traveling the world. Because when you are in Hong Kong, it is quite easy to travel. I really like to discover new countries and new produce. And also my inspiration is from the produce — we are really based on the highest-quality produce.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your new city?
I don’t want to push the Mandarin, but I like to work here, in this kitchen. I like the restaurant; it’s a good kitchen; I have a good team.
And you probably don’t have much time off.
On my Sundays off, with my family, I like to go to some islands, like Lamma or Lantau. I take a boat and go walking on Lamma, have brunch or lunch, spend time on the beach and swim. I like that in 20 or 30 minutes, you can be out of the very hectic town, on a small island with a totally different life. It’s an easy way to get out of Hong Kong.
Are there any local foods you particularly like?
I have one thing, but it’s not a food, it’s a drink: I really like pu’er tea. Before coming to Hong Kong, I was more excited about the tea than the food.
About Hong Kong food, an unusual thing I like is jellyfish salad, and also dishes like roasted pig, suckling pig. I know everybody loves dim sum, but I’m not an addict of dim sum. My favorite thing is the jellyfish. I was very surprised by the texture in a salad. It’s fresh and crunchy. I don’t use it in my kitchen yet, but one day.
Photo Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group LLC