Probably one of a very few skilled enough to achieve three prestigious MICHELIN Stars more than once, Chef Vincent Thierry answers humbly when asked if that was his goal. “It is not that simple. But if I can do that, yes, it will be amazing. Incredible.”
He pulls out his phone and grins, “I have three stars already.” On the screen were his three boys, aged 18, 16, and 11.
Originally from France’s picturesque and lush Loire Valley, Chef Vincent Thierry has spent 35 years in the kitchen, working at six three-MICHELIN-Starred restaurants, including Caprice in Hong Kong, and now running Chef’s Table, the two-MICHELIN-Starred beauty on the 61st floor of MICHELIN-listed Lebua Hotel at State Tower. After closing for seven months due to the lockdowns, this French chef is happy to return to his kitchen. He strains chicken stock and works alongside his crews, serving excellence on a plate for the guests.
Tonight, the restaurant is fully booked. Chef Thierry spares some time from his daily mis en place to talk about his daily routine, his family, and some tips if you are thinking about sending him your CV.
7.30 a.m. - Rise and shine
“I usually go to bed between 12 to 1 and wake up at 7:30 or 8. I enjoy getting up early. It’s your time. You work in the evening but have this morning time to do whatever you want. Go to the gym. Draw. Whatever. I always tell the team that we are so lucky to have one service per day. It’s a luxury today in the hospitality and restaurant business, to be able to work on only one service and not have to do split shifts. It’s a quality life, compared to normal chefs. We can do twelve hours depending on the day. But we still have quite a lot of personal time. We can do sports, family, whatever you want. That’s quite important. The young people like to sleep. They get up so late, just before they have to come in. I say, guys, you are losing time.
“I love to go swimming every morning. When I swim, I am alone, and I can think.
“Today discipline is a big problem. I swim and then read my book, but sometimes I don’t read enough because I have my phone with me. We spend too much time on the phone.
“I also like taking care of my plants. I have quite a few on my balcony. I really love a green balcony. I have orchids and cactus, and now I am doing citrus, with limes and lemons. It may take longer, but I like seeing them coming from the seed and growing. It will take years if it survives [laughs]. You need to be patient.
“And then I always have to do something for work regarding purchasing, contacting suppliers, deliveries. People are at the office in the morning. This is when I find products and think about new recipes. New dishes. New creations.”
11.30 - Lunch at home, checking emails, preparation begins
“I try to have lunch at home early, between 11:30 and 12 before I leave for work. After arriving, I check my email and then I go directly to the kitchen. We swim in the kitchen daily. Everyday.
“Many people ask me: What do you do there? Why do you go so early? I say: Do you cook at home? I challenge you to host a meal for four guests on a Saturday evening, preparing one appetiser, one main course, and one dessert. You will go to the market in the morning to buy fresh products and cook for that night. After that, we will talk.
“We never have enough time for prepping. Even though today you come two hours early. You. Never. Have. Enough. Time. You are never ready. I’m thirty five years now in the kitchen, and I still don’t know why we never have enough time [laughs]. The night’s always too short.”
13:00 - 23:00 - Swimming in the kitchen, dinner service, team debrief
When asked about how his routine has changed after thirty-five years in the kitchen, Thierry shares, “I am going to surprise you. It has never changed. Last week I was straining chicken stock. Yesterday, I was doing mussels and clams. I was cooking, straining the juice, everything. I’m doing the job of a commis [junior chef]. So, it has never changed. On top of that, I have to check all stations and plan for next week and next month. I always say to my guys, you are looking for tonight. My sous chef looks for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I have to look for the week and the month. It’s part of your responsibility. It’s where I am happy. I’m still a chef, making the sauce and doing the stock when needed. I write the recipe on paper after trying to make it for real.
“Many chefs talk to their team before the shift starts, but I do it when we finish. Before we leave, we group together and debrief about the day, and prepare for the day after. One thing that makes it easy is, I am always there in the kitchen. We are part of the brigade, we do the mis en place together.”
Life at home with family
Asked how he spends time with his family, the chef replies, “During the seven months that I stayed home because of the lockdown, of course they were happy. It has never happened for them because it was impossible in normal times. I was also busy with lunch and dinner [laughs]. I’m so lucky because my wife really loves to cook. She loves spending time in the kitchen, cooking and baking. That means we can share time when cooking together.
“I have lunch with my wife if she’s at home. Of course, the kids are at school, so I can have lunch with them only on Saturdays and Sundays. It depends on their activities as well. They do basketball, rugby, soccer. We only have Monday night to have dinner together. I think everybody appreciates it.
“All the family, we are starting golf together. We are beginners. They want to go more often, but it is difficult. We need five hours minimum. It’s quite a long hour. And I am tired after golf. I feel empty [smiles].
"Before, I always said golf is not a sport. And since I started, unbelievable. Your concentration. Your focus. And the challenge. It’s a very difficult sport. So technical. It doesn’t look like that but it is."
“At home, I say to my boys, I’m your dad, but I’m also your friend. When we are in the car, it means now you don’t decide anymore about the music in your car [laughs].
“What’s interesting is that they are coming to me or my wife on different topics. Some questions, they go to mom. Other questions will come to me.
“We have always been close. My eldest son is starting to understand many things that I told him, about what to do and what not to do. For example, I taught him about being on time and never being late for work. Once, he called to say he missed the train to go to work. And he will be late. He was totally in panic. I told him: how many times have I told you, when you wake up, when you set your alarm, if it’s nine, you need to wake up at nine. If the train is 9:00, at 9:01 the train will go, and all doors are closed.
“If you go to school, it is easy, you just go sign a paper that says ‘I am late today.’ But for work it is never acceptable, you are there five or ten minutes before. So today you miss the train for work. Good. He was working for one of my friends. He had to take a 45-minute train every Saturday to go to work. I say ok, see what he’s going to tell you. He was under so much pressure. I say that’s good. I think we all learn like that. It happens to all of us.”
What is it like to work in Vincent Thierry’s kitchen? What’s your work philosophy?
“My philosophy is to do it well. Do it with pleasure, passion, and happiness. I can’t say I have the passion I had in my 20s or 30s. It’s different. I’m fifty. But it's a passion to spend so much time doing one plate. Sometimes it took a month to do a recipe.
“When I have new staff, I tell them that one very important thing for me and for us is, we need to be honest and frank with what we are doing. Whatever happens, we talk. When something is wrong, or if you don’t know, just ask. Even if it is a stupid question, ask. If you are not sure, ask. I can show you. We talk. Don’t come to me only when you need a day off.
“In Hong Kong, once, my guy came unshaved. I said, go shave and come back after. He said it will take one hour. I said yes, you go do whatever you have to. But when you come back, you are clean.
“The most difficult thing is to be consistent. People are paying, and the restaurant is fully booked. If the food is not good, we cannot hide. I am in front of them.
“What’s important today is motivation. I need someone who comes here not for salary or health insurance. I need someone who wants to do what we are doing. I would ask them: what do you want? I start to find people who say: I want French cooking. I want fine dining. We are starting to find that. But still not the majority. You need the discipline to do something very well. Now, we are still not doing everything perfectly. We still have people complaining sometimes. That’s why it is not easy.
“Tonight, hopefully, will be better than last night. And busy. We are better when we are busy. I always tell them when it’s quiet, it’s more difficult. It’s when we start to be too comfortable. It’s dangerous.”