Mickael Le Calvez, executive Sous Chef at Raffles, Singapore
After Hong Kong and then Vietnam, this young chef from Brittany with his infectious laugh now manages the eight Raffles restaurants in Singapore. In the most famous luxury hotel in this city-state with 5 million inhabitants, he combines French and Asian cuisine. For him, the latter can teach us a lot about the art of healthy eating.
Is healthy eating also the trend in Singapore?
Especially in Singapore! It's as if all fans of healthy diets meet here. I don't know why – the culture of the city, its legendary cleanliness, the fact that there are a lot of English...
You said "especially in Singapore"; what about the rest of Asia?
I know quite a lot of chefs in other countries in the region and the trend is the same.
But all over Asia, the people have always paid attention to the quality of products and to the way they cook them. For a long time I watched the chefs in the Chinese restaurant that was next to mine in Hong Kong: we had practically the same methods for preparing and cooking. But they have more respect for the product. The way they marinate meats is admirable. To poach poultry, while we Westerners sear it for a long time in boiling stock, they take it off the heat immediately and let the temperature drop. Chinese cuisine is based on health. The Chinese even say themselves that the taste isn't always good, that sometimes it's bitter, but that's because it's healthy. They are way ahead when it comes to healthy eating!
How do you perceive this trend in your restaurants?
Our customers ask us every day if we have fat-reduced dishes, fibre-based dishes, etc. Organic dishes are not as popular as in Europe, but they do want to know the exact origin of meat, vegetables, etc. Recently, the gluten-free and lactose-free fads have gone crazy. Even for those who are not at all intolerant! And as the customer is always right, we change our menus to keep them happy.
Can you give us an example? Which changes have you introduced recently?
The traditional French cuisine we represent and which is spotlighted in one of our biggest restaurants here at Raffles is clearly no longer "in". I'm talking about our rich cuisine, which uses a lot of fat, heavy cooking methods, etc. So I have reduced the fat in the creams, taken out the butter, replaced thick soups with very light stocks, etc. I have changed my kitchenware; I cook more often using the vacuum method, particularly marinated fish. I have reduced the amount of salt. And in desserts, I have reduced the quantity of sugar by half! That's the way to keep the customers sweet (laughs). The only diet I have a problem with is gluten-free, because it's really difficult to get the taste and texture of cereals. Customers also ask for salads more than before. Knowing what they want from their food, I have sauces made from fruits.
Do you use Les vergers Boiron frozen fruit purées?
Yes, in coulis, cold sauces for vinaigrettes, and also in brown sauces. They are in perfect keeping with the trend! You can feel the fresh product, the original selection, because the taste and colour are very natural and very intense. The range has extended a lot: beetroot, artichoke, asparagus, which is great for adjusting to the diversification I was talking about. Now you can do amazing things with kalamansi, yuzu, Morello cherry, butternut squash, etc., and keep customers happy.
Have you tested the new 100% purées?
I think they're a great idea. When I cook, I prefer to have the raw product so that I can adjust the taste and consistency. That's exactly what you can do with these 100% purées. The most common problem with added products is the sugar. Especially when you reduce a preparation to get the right consistency: the sugar becomes too concentrated. With purées with no added sugar, like the ones by Les vergers Boiron, you can control them perfectly.
What else have you learnt since you've been in Asia?
Not judo, as I was already a black belt! (laughs) In Vietnam, I learnt how to make so many things with just a few products. The Vietnamese make nearly everything with chicken, pork or shrimps. Then, with a few herbs and well-chosen vegetables, they invent the most incredible flavours. In Vietnam you can smell coriander from 100 meters away! The finesse of this population's taste is impressive.
But Asian products are very varied and very flavoursome...
That's right, but that's the way Vietnamese culture is. In the rest of the region, the food is very varied. Vegetables from Australia, sublime tender shoots, often organic, are a huge hit. And the demand for new products is high: quinoa, bulgur, etc. Going to the market is getting more and more complicated!
And what about you? What is your speciality?
I don't have a signature dish, that would be too pretentious. And I like changing with the season, the years. Being from Brittany, I'm naturally passionate about fishing, even if the smell of iodine is not as strong here. I love seafood. At the moment I do scallops fried with artichokes. I also have a penchant for veal, which I prepare with baby carrots and mushrooms. I miss French products and have them sent every week. They are so exceptional that they do not need to be transformed. But then I am biased...(laughs)