Born in New Zealand to a Chinese father and Egyptian mother, and schooled in the UK and the US, Bobby Chinn was exposed to different cuisines and cultures from a young age. Passionate about good food, this boyishly charming chef, restaurateur, author and award-winning TV presenter shares his culinary journey with Travel 3Sixty° and reveals the one dish he’d whip up to melt a woman’s heart!
Compiled by Chitra S.
What persuaded you to leave wall street for the culinary world?
I was dissatisfied with simply pushing paper and shouting out numbers all day long. I stumbled into the culinary scene through a course of semi-planned mishaps. While pursuing standup comedy, I worked as a waiter and because I didn’t know much about food then, I decided to volunteer in the kitchen. That was pretty much the route!
How long did it take to learn the ropes in the kitchen before striking out on your own?
I’m not really sure if you ever totally learn the ropes! It’s a profession in which you’re constantly learning and adjusting. There’s a lot of on-the-job training and over the years I’ve put in many hours. I continue to learn and work on my mistakes.
How does your Chinese-Egyptian background lend to the creation of your signature dishes?
I learnt at an early age that there was an incredible diversity of food because I was eating Arabic food in Egypt, American junk food in school and authentic Chinese food with my grandparents. My parents were also foodies and I enjoyed their diverse tastes. That helps with the creation of food. If I’m going to create my version of a classic dish from any region, I’d find out what the original flavour profile is and then make adjustments from there. It helps when you know the original flavour to be able to play off it.
Why did you choose Vietnam as the base for your restaurant business?
I came to Vietnam to learn the cuisine and got a job as a chef. I never really had any intention of opening a restaurant here, but I did and I keep on trying to do it better each and every time. After 18 years of being here, I no longer limit myself to Vietnam; I’m open to going to other places.
Tell us about the challenges you faced with your latest venture in Ho Chi Minh City
One of the biggest challenges I had was opening a restaurant and filming it simultaneously! I wanted to do something greener, and I wasted a lot of time and resources trying to develop a farm-to-table concept for a restaurant with a lower carbon footprint, developing relationships with farmers and growing organic, but none of it panned out. We also had staff walkouts, budget overruns and construction delays with defects that are still visible to this day!
As a restaurateur and consumer, how important is sustainable food to you?
Sustainable food is very important to me. In order to get sustainable, we have to alter attitudes. To do that effectively and immediately, we need to change policies and spend money on education. I tried doing sustainable food for my TV show but I fell flat on my face.It would be great to try again and succeed.
What type of cuisine would you like to see the Vietnamese people eat more of?
The Vietnamese have gravitated tremendously towards other Asian food like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian/Singaporean and obviously Thai, but I hope that they’ll experience more European, Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisines as well.
Is that cheeky persona we see on TV the real Bobby Chinn?
What you see is what you get, although I think TV is somewhat limiting as I find myself much broader than just a cheeky character.
If you could only wear one piece of clothing while cooking, what would it be?
I’d probably wear overalls so I’d still have pants on while cooking or maybe a galabeya (a traditional Egyptian gown).
Kitchen top, stove or sink… where is the best place to butter your baguette?
If you’re anal-retentive, I highly suggest the sink!
Which three female chefs would you like to have for dessert and why?
I have a girlfriend so I would need to pass on all three chefs!
What would you make to sweep the love of your life off her feet?
I’d make her a molten chocolate cake.