A striking figure with his platinum blonde hair and signature black attire, Chef Emmanuel Stroobant gained acclaim and recognition in Asia as host of Asian Food Channel series Chef in Black. It was a pleasant surprise for fans when the amiable chef made an appearance as judge on the network’s inaugural AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef.
“I think it is more for the viewers, for those aspiring to be chefs because it shows them how a day to day operation works,” he says referring to the increasing popularity of reality cooking shows in the region.
“The tantrums and triumphs do happen, and the long hours and hard work. It’s not just the glamour of being a chef.”
It certainly wasn’t the superficial portrayals of celebrity chefs that swayed his ambitions of becoming a criminologist.
“I started at 17, washing dishes at a restaurant to pay for college. I liked the atmosphere in the kitchen, it was very intense; there were a lot of things happening and I really enjoyed that. I left school and slowly worked my way up to chopping vegetables and then to dressing salads and onwards before taking up an apprenticeship programme.”
But his studies in behavioural science proved to be a valuable tool in his line of work. “There is a lot of psychology involved when dealing with a team,” Chef Emmanuel explains. “In a restaurant the cooking part is very technical but when you’re leading a team it’s also important to know how to motivate people.”
And running a western themed restaurant in an Asian country (he owns seven restaurants in Singapore under the Emmanuel Stroobant Group) is a very different kettle of fish not only when dealing with local staff but also with local diners.
“It is more challenging. It’s not about being fussy—it is more about the culture. In Asia you need to change the rules to adapt to local tastes. And when it comes to the food I make I have to try and look at it from the cultural point of view. I try to remain true to my roots but I also have to adapt the ingredients.”
As to the common perception that chefs are generally snappish, plate smashing terrors he maintains that they don’t all prescribe to the Hell’s Kitchen method of running a kitchen. “I think the instances of chefs losing their tempers are not as common as people think.”
But he does admit that there are situations that demands no compromise and Chef Emmanuel’s main kitchen rules are industry staples.
“Hygiene is important because at the end of the day we have to protect the reputation of the restaurant you work in. But what drives me nuts is when people do things with no passion. I don’t mind training someone with no knowledge or background but you can’t train attitude, emotions or passion. Not with a chef. What we do cannot be replicated by a machine. We are artists.”