Food For Thought: A Life Well Mixed1 Apr 2013
Executive Chef of Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, Antoine Rodriguez talks about living life on the road and keeping it simple in the kitchen.
Where have you worked in the past?
My first trip was to Gabon. It was a fun experience for a guy like me from south western France arriving with my bag in Africa where the food habits are so different. Then I got married so I sent out my CV looking for a new place. We went to the Seychelles and that was my first contact with Le Meridien. Whenever you see a picture of paradise, it is the Seychelles. Then we went to a small place in Turkey for two years. I had to take chefs from hotels in Ankara and even went to the watermelon fields to ask workers if they wanted to work in a kitchen. Then, Sri Lanka. It was a dangerous country then but the people there were lovely and the hotel was beautiful. Next, we moved to the Caribbean. It was a beautiful, private hotel on the beach with yachts and famous people coming and going. From 1995 to 2004, we were in Phuket. Back then it was a fisherman's village. You could play pétanque in the street. They made me F&B Director there but it wasn't me. I like cooking and the adrenalin of the kitchen. I wasn't managing people only numbers. So I came here. And this is only my travel for work; my jalan-jalan (walkabout) in between is even worse!
How has living in Malaysia inspired your cooking?
Malaysia is very foodie. I'm amazed that you can eat for RM2, RM2000 or anything in between. There's Malay, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian: any type of food, anytime, anywhere, any price. I'm a big fan of chili and noodles and I'm very picky about them. In Sri Lanka I loved the devil chili. It makes you sweat and makes your hair stand on end, your face swell, lips and mouth go numb so I can eat the cili padi here by the spoonful. Malaysia has amazing noodles like mee hoon with tom yum spices. The only thing I don’t like is ikan bilis (anchovies). You can have a beautiful simple dish and then they come along and dump a lot of ikan bilis on top. All the subtle flavours are gone!
How do you develop new recipes?
First, we decide, for example, we need a pasta. It depends on the restaurant: Favola is Venetian so we focus on seafood; Prime has meat; at Gastro, food should be comforting and fun. The dish needs to be friendly for locals. If it's for Gastro, for example, I think maybe gnocchetti because it looks like big rice, butter chicken because chicken is popular here and a curry-like ragu. That's our gnocchetti sardi. I wouldn't call that fusion, just comfort. I work to please people not myself.
What is your signature dish?
Where? I have signature dishes everywhere! In Gastro, I love the beef cheek. At Latest Recipe, the chef makes a great palak paneer. If I go to Latitude, it's the hot chocolate shot. At Prime, the oyster blade and at Favola, the burratina with truffles.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
Potato. You can adapt it in so many ways. It's good fried, mash, steamed – it is the product par excellence. Last year the US Potato Board brought me seven types of potato and I made a whole menu with potato including a chocolate cake. There is nothing better than simple things. I'm not a fan of dishes which you can't remember after you've finished eating because there are too many components. Nothing is better than bread well fermented and butter well mixed. If you have that, what more do you need?