Chef Yannick Hollenstein Talks to Top 25 Restaurants
Chef Yannick Hollenstein was part of the Swiss Culinary National Team that won the Expogast Culinary World Cup in 2014. The multi-award-winning talent has already gained valuable experience in many Michelin starred restaurants around the world including 3-star Andreas Caminada in Switzerland and 2-star Mathias Dahlgren in Sweden.
A native of the Swiss Alps, he puts Alpine heritage and culture into his creations. In his menu, he includes delicacies from abroad such as black truffle, Oscietra caviar or Japanese Busy Wagyu, but also more and more regional or Thai produce such as Phuket lobster, wild-caught Krabi blue crab, hand picked local clams and various indigenous plants.
Was your decision to become a chef conscious or did you fall into it?
The wish to become a chef one day was very clear for me already at very young age. I was helping my mom in the kitchen whenever possible so much so that every birthday or Christmas I got cooking books while other kids got toys and games. I still remember making myself a white tall chef toque out of kitchen tissue paper and writing my name on tape to attach on my apron while working in the kitchen with my mom.
What are some emerging food trends that you’re noticing?
I am noticing a big trend in sustainability of cuisine, which includes using local ingredients, minimizing cooking and avoid generation of wastes. Another trend is “less is more”, which means simplicity in plating and flavors with the best possible products without changing them too much in appearance or taste.
What’s an emerging ingredient that you’re using a lot of these days?
These days I’m using a lot of Phuket lobster as it’s a very popular choice dish in our current tasting menu. I really appreciate the usage of this great product as it’s very versatile and we are using the whole lobster in various ways to reduce wastage and maximize flavour. Other ingredients I’m using a lot these days are Josephine oysters from France, local caught rainbow runner which we smoke with cherry wood and the colourful berry tomatoes which we get fresh and flavorful from the farm in Chaing Mai.
What would you cook at home if you were just making a laid-back dinner?
At home I like it very simple and comfortable. As a swiss national I really appreciate some good fresh bread, butter and cheese or coldcuts as a simple and good meal which brings back good memories of my home country. Sometimes when my family sends me cheeses or coldcuts directly from Switzerland it’s even better! If I have to choose another laid-back dinner, it would be fresh self-caught fish or seafood from the market grilled over charcoal and some ice-cold beer.
What’s the difference and challenges between being an Executive Chef in Switzerland (Europe) and in Phuket?
Biggest challenge is the frequent power outages in Kalim bay from, for example, snakes climbing onto the electrical cables…No, im just joking this is not such a big challenge.
To be honest, I think one of the biggest challenges is the culture difference and language barrier. But once understood, learned and adapted, Thailand is a great country to work in and there are a lot of opportunities. Other differences would be the infrastructure, tropical climate, product availability and reliability. For example it takes much more effort to find reliable sources for great produce or find (and keep) skilled and experienced staff with the same passion for the job and the understanding of factors to reach high level consistency.
Do you source as much local produce as possible for each restaurant and does this have a big impact on the menu?
We are always trying to have local produce in our dishes. As a French restaurant we need to maintain the authentic flavor profile and technique, which means, sometimes this is not possible with local ingredients. But if it works out, we use local products and flavors and guests appreciate the local influence or twist in our dishes. For example if a recipe requires honey, we can get high quality lychee blossom honey from the north of Thailand without changing the recipe’s DNA.
How is people’s relationship with food different between Europe and Thailand?
I feel that the people in Thailand have a much stronger relationship to food than people in Europe. Here everything is about food and people love eating, having a meal together, almost celebrating the joy of it and talking about it where I feel people in Europe are sometimes just eating to be nourished.
Is there one dish that sums up your style?
Each dish from our menu sums up my style but if I have to pick just one dish, I would say it`s our smoked cheese fondue. The idea was to bring a dish from my home country to the menu. But cheese fondue doesn’t seem like a good fit for the tropical island climate in Phuket. So I deconstructed it and recreate it into a innovative new version of it with same flavour profile but new textures, presentation and some surprise elements. I would say the way how we created this dish reflects how we work in my kitchen. Taking a classic dish and then trying to give it a reinvention without changing the core of it.
Will any of the dishes you discovered recently be making their way onto your menus?
We are currently experimenting with duck and we plan to launch it as a new main course soon. The idea is to make a duck dish inspired by the classic combination of canard à l’orange. We are testing which duck, local or imported from France, how long we mature, how we cook it, on the bone or single breast, curing and brining process, aging in beeswax or fat, how to bring to orange notes to it, how we present, … and once all those details are settled in the way we want it we will launch the new dish.
What do you think the most important qualities are in a young chef?
I think the most important qualities in a young chef is to be humble but fearless team player, with persistency and feeling joy in striving for perfection. It`s very important to be ambitious, focused and serious about where you want to be and how you can achieve that without forgetting to enjoy the journey. It’s a very important quality for a young chef to find, create and maintain a personal style and filter out outside voices, in the same time, take constructive feedbacks for improvement and negativity as fuel to be greater than ever.
What do you think about chefs like Gordon Ramsay, who have taken haute cuisine to the masses via reality TV?
I highly respect chef personalities who can manage to be present on so many channels and are still able to maintain the high quality in their work. It also shows how important it is to have a great team supporting you in the background as all this is only possible with the right team. A great chef alone is nothing without the support of a great team.
What’s the one tool that a Chef should not be without?
My mentor once told me in the first few weeks in my apprenticeship that the most important tool for a chef is a pencil. Because if you can`t calculate you could be the best chef in the world but you wouldn’t be successful. That really sank in and I will never forget this phrase.
As for kitchen tools, it would clearly be a sharp knife. But in modern gastronomy, there are way more tools needed than that. Just to mention some, sous vide thermostate, vacuum machine, paco-jet, high speed blender, dehydrator, blast freezer, … are essential for the kind of cuisine we do. Sometimes it`s scary how much equipment and tools we rely on in the kitchen and how we depend on electricity or other utilities but I believe we need those tools to create dishes, textures and menu components which our guests can`t easily do in their home kitchen. That’s why they have to come to the restaurant to experience something they can`t elsewhere.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My father gave me this advise over and over and its now one of my core values. “Success is never owned, it is rented and the rent is due every day!”
Your favorite holiday destination?
My favorite holiday destinations are always around water. As a highly passionate sport fisher my holiday destinations are always selected according to the target species of fish I want to catch. For examples Mentawai Islands, Scotland, Kamchatka or a big dream for me is to visit one day would be Socotra Island in Yemen as its one of the most unique and best places in the world for GT sport fishing.
Your preferred hotel or resort for a quiet holiday?
Nothing in a resort or hotel. I am more the kind of person who seeks places far away from civilization and crowds. My perfect quiet holiday would be on a live-aboard somewhere in the deep blue ocean fishing for giant billfish or its in the green Scottish highlands fishing for pike and salmon.
What’s next for you (plans, dreams, …)?
For now my full focus in on the restaurant here in Phuket where I want to achieve high goals and it’s a big dream to be listed and awarded in the red book and make it one of the best dining destinations in the country. For future I can imagine myself creating other venues or getting around within the group to expand and gain more experience which influences my personal style.