every chef must learn the right way to do things and find his own way to do them correctly, believes Toang Hoang Gia
For a chef, Toang Hoang Gia is a breath of fresh air, largely because he believes in natural, healthy food. It’s not really puzzling, considering he’s Vietnamese and is currently chef of Vietnamese cuisine at Lalit Ashok’s pan-Asian restaurant Oko.
What’s even more interesting is that he is quite honest with his views. and his honesty seeps into his cooking attitude.
“I think Indian food is heavy and oily. it is based on a lot of gravy with strong flavours,” he says.
Chef Tong Hoang Gia hails from north Vietnam, which, he explains, is characterised by tropical weather. The food there less spicy and healthier. We eat a lot of fresh vegetables. South Vietnamese food, on the other hand, has stronger and more aromatic flavours. they eat food that is more spicy and sweet.”
His idea of a typical Vietnamese dish is spring rolls and varieties of noodle soup.
Though it is south Vietnamese food that he cooks at Oko, Gia is trained in “old-world” French cuisine, Teppanyaki, and Singaporean cuisine. he has a strong background in professional cooking, having studied at the Culinary Institute of America and the Cordon Bleu.
“The main differences between oriental and Western styles of food lie in the way it is cooked and in terms of the strength of flavour. Western food is usually cooked in a bain-maries, steam, ovens or pans whereas oriental food is cooked using stronger heat in woks or grills,” he points out.
“there is more attention to the flavour of the oil and the food itself. there isn’t too much seasoning or spice, whereas Asian food depends on spices and herbs.”
Gia has had a literal world of experience, having worked with an array of hotels and restaurants in countries like France, England, Hong Kong and Dubai, including The Intercontinental Asiana in Saigon, Vietnam and the Zuma in Dubai.
He has put together dinners for the Prime minister of UAE and the Chaine Des Rotisseurs, which have become his fondest memories.
He worked at the Lalit Intercontinental hotel in Mumbai before moving to Bangalore.
“People in Bangalore lead a slow life, they have more time to enjoy food, unlike in the other metros. there a lot of visitors from other countries who are usually well-exposed and know what they are eating. I also see that people here want to try authentic food that is not Indianised.”
Gia believes that among Asian cuisine, Indian and Chinese food belong to “old-world” cuisine.
“Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines have become popular only in the last 20 years. there is more demand for variety these days. about 20 years ago, rice and soup was enough. Now people want fancy food all the time, but they don’t know what kind of chemicals go into their food. this sort of a demand is against nature.”
He feels that it is time people started realising the value of a simple, healthy diet with more greens and vegetables. he makes sure to include vegetables in his cooking. even his signature dish of braised spare-ribs is accompanied by taro, a type of yam.
Despite its calorie count, Gia loves tandoori chicken and butter chicken, with a piece of naan. he also has a natural fetish for dim-sum and Japanese food.
“my biggest inspiration is my grandmother. our family had a small restaurant in my childhood. one day, I saw her add something to a stir-fry that made it smell really good. After she passed away, my mother took over. but the flavour and smell were never quite the same. When I asked her what the missing ingredient was, she told me it was garlic. I realised that one piece of garlic can make a difference.”
The incident taught Gia that a chef needs to have individuality.
“I believe that a chef has to work hard and work smart. every chef must learn the right way to do things and find his own way to do them correctly.”