Chef Lorraine on HCMC’s Culinary Scene

food - Saigon/HCMC: Dec. 2, 2016

Chef Lorraine Sinclair is the Culinary Director at Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers. Twenty-five years in top kitchens across Europe, Asia and the Middle East have shaped her into a tough, passionate chef who knows no bounds. She held eight executive chef positions before her trip to Vietnam – recently in Dubai, Istanbul, Hong Kong and Seoul. In Hong Kong, two restaurants under Chef Lorraine’s direction received Michelin stars. In Dubai, she received the BBC Good Food award, Time Out’s Best Steak House and placed 3rd in Best Restaurants in 2013 by Esquire.

“Travel opens your mind to different possibilities and allows you to see that what may be considered a delicacy in one culture, doesn’t always translate into another. I’ve been fortunate to try really exotic ingredients, such as snake blood, and that’s really helped me to understand different culinary traditions and how to incorporate them into my cooking.” – Chef Lorraine

She has a no-bullshit way of nudging a restaurant in the right direction, stemming from her 2.5 decades of intense kitchen experience. We recently sat down with Chef Lorraine to discuss the culinary scene in Ho Chi Minh City.

What do you find wrong about Ho Chi Minh City’s culinary scene?

People are afraid to think outside the box. For example, I recently gave a chef of mine a list of 20 fish to use on the menu and he chose one, because that’s the only one he knew. They don’t ask questions; they would rather just hide in the corner than show others that they don’t know something.

This is not as common in other countries I’ve worked in. People have talent here, but it just needs to be brought out of them; they’re too comfortable being complacent.

What do you think of the hygiene problem here?

The government is strict for 5-star hotels, so generally it’s fine in this sector. The government is also stepping up in their regulations, because they want people in the country, as opposed to never coming again. Bad hygiene isn’t as acceptable anymore.

What is your experience training new staff?

The older generation is the one who never travelled. Now you have younger people travelling and bringing their experiences. Younger staff are very eager to learn, and they’re keen on using the latest equipment, but when you’re training them you have to keep up the momentum and always check up on what they’re doing, because they change small things little by little.

They also still have difficulty pairing items, like wine and food. But they’re very fast learners.

“I try not to look at it in terms of where’s my favourite place to work, but rather the teams that I’ve been able to work with. In Korea I had a fantastic staff and some really amazing produce to work with, while in Dubai, my team members came from a whole range of backgrounds, which helped us learn about each other’s respective culinary traditions.” – Chef Lorraine

What is your opinion on fusion food?

Fusion is confusion. A problem with fusion cuisine is that you have a nice piece of meat, or fish, and then throw a bunch of sauces and spices on it, and you can’t taste the original element anymore. Tasting the original produce is the most important thing in a dish.

What about local food?

Local chicken has no flavour, and a local tomato doesn’t taste like a tomato. Some of the local fruits are nice. But there are many fluctuations in price, there’s no consistency between seasons.