Food For Thought: Chef Mickael Cornutrait23 Dec 2016
I came to Malaysia first in 2010 to do a three-month internship. I did some training in a culinary school and worked in a café in Menara IMC and a small restaurant in a gated community. It was quite good. I went back, passed my exams, then called my ex-boss and said I was coming to Malaysia. The idea was to open a restaurant in the city, so we found, renovated and opened La Vie En Rose in November 2011. It lasted for four years until the landslide. Then, we started French Feast in June this year.
We had a landslide at La Vie En Rose once before, but it was just mud. After that, they built a big retaining wall but there might not have been enough drainage and the water kept accumulating. When it all fell down again, the wall did most of the damage because it was heavy stone and concrete. It ruined the whole kitchen, half of the restaurant and the wine room. In French we have a saying ‘never two without three’. There had already been two landslides, so we decided to just find a new place.
There are similarities between French Feast and La Vie En Rose, but French Feast is more intimate, slightly more traditional and now we have pork. What we do here is honest, comfort food. We make as much in-house as we can, including all the sausages, smoked salmon and bread. There are very few things that I will buy and serve as-is – and if I do, they have to be of good quality. When you make everything from scratch and assemble it, you feel happier. You sell your work, after all.
We do, however, sell vintage sardines directly from the can because they’re good. We get them directly from France and they are aged in extra virgin olive oil, but the flavours are really well balanced. Sardines are something that everyone in France has as well. During the festive season, we usually need to have things like oysters, scallops and truffles – items that you wouldn’t eat on a regular basis because they are expensive, both here and in France. Christmas logs and anything with praline are also very popular.
We’re trying to bring some French traditions to Malaysia. In France, you will have a raclette dinner with your family and friends at least once during the winter. It has a lot of cheese, so it’s not something you will eat alone. It’s a dish that brings people together. There’s no winter here, but we still have to do it. We have a machine from France to make this, but we have to put half of the cheese wheel in at once, so I can’t do this for a table of two. It has to be for a special occasion. The more people there are, the better it is.
Often there are dishes that are inspired by home cooking and adapted to serve in a restaurant, but we still stick to the spirit of it. We have cassoulet, a coco bean stew from the southwest of France. Beef tartare is very French as well. And you cannot go far from iconic dishes like crème brulee. I know what was working at La Vie En Rose. It’s good to introduce things but sometimes you have to go for what people want, and the classics never go out of date. Fusion might work sometimes, but until when?