Hong Kong-based chef earns first Michelin star for Venezuela

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Hong Kong (AFP) – Arepas, tacos and an old family recipe for chimichurri: Ricardo Chaneton’s symphony of flavors, familiar to Latin Americans, has earned his Hong Kong restaurant a coveted Michelin star – the first awarded to a Venezuelan chef.

For Chaneton, so long known for French cuisine, earning the star two years after opening his restaurant Mono is a source of great pride – as well as a “very nice weight” of responsibility.

“On that side of the world, everyone is watching us. Being the first Venezuelan to have a Michelin star makes people watch you,” the 34-year-old chef told AFP.

“But I tell them not to worry because we are representing our continent and our countries in the best possible way.”

Located in Hong Kong‘s posh Central district, Mono has already received regional approval – in 2021 it was listed among Asia’s 50 best restaurants, the first such appearance for a Latin American joint.

It was initially billed as “contemporary French” due to Chaneton’s experience at Le Mirazur, the famous restaurant on the Côte d’Azur voted best in the world in 2019.

But a month after Mono opened, diners were already calling his Latin American restaurant, he said.

“That’s what we wanted. That French element will always be there, but I was born in Venezuela, Colombian grandmother, Argentinian grandfather, and that’s how I put my own flavor,” said declared the native of Caracas.

Located in Hong Kong‘s posh central district, Mono has already received regional approval Pierre PARKSAFP

Different accents of spoken Spanish can be heard in Chaneton’s open kitchen – its staff hail from Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil – and their dishes speak to the region’s varied tastes.

Hong Kong’s Culinary Problems

On Chaneton’s menu, a French Racan pigeon fused with chimichurri and jicama – a common root vegetable in South American cuisine – and a fillet of wild turbot from Brittany that gets its bright yellow color thanks to annatto oil , popular in Latin and Asian dishes.

The sides are also reminiscent of street food familiar to Venezuelans or Mexicans – like fresh corn hallaquitas, which resemble Venezuelan tamales, or arepas filled with lobster and stewed beef.

“We don’t want to make 100% traditional cuisine, but it is based on our perception and interpretation of nostalgia and taste memories,” the chef said.

Despite earning the star, Mono’s experience was anti-climactic given Hong Kong’s coronavirus restrictions on indoor dining during an Omicron-fueled wave.

Despite getting the star, Mono's experience was anti-climactic given Hong Kong's restrictions on indoor dining
Despite getting the star, Mono’s experience was anti-climactic given Hong Kong’s restrictions on indoor dining Pierre PARKSAFP

Chaneton said he received news of the award one morning in January – the same day the Hong Kong government told restaurants to stop eating indoors after 6 p.m.

“We had this bittersweet experience on the same day,” Chaneton told AFP. “I look forward to providing Michelin star service at night.”

With cases declining, the government announced that nighttime meals would resume on April 21.

He has no regrets on his winding journey to his Michelin star, starting in a Caracas pizzeria to mastering French cuisine under the guidance of legend Mauro Colagreco.

After working as an executive chef at Hong Kong’s Petrus at the Shangri-La Hotel before striking out on his own, Chaneton said he’s grateful for how “fate has played” with his culinary journey.

“I think the best thing about Mono is that it’s a window into Asia on fine Latin American food,” he said.

“If I had earned this star by making French cuisine, it would not have had the same weight.”

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