5 Chefs Bringing Asian Flair to The Global Fine-Dining Stage
From the high-pressure kitchens of Copenhagen to the innovative plates of Hanoi, these five chefs with Asian roots are reshaping the global gastronomic scene with distinctive flavours and cultural storytelling.
08 November 2023
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The culinary world is witnessing an exciting evolution as Asian chefs and cuisine carve out a niche on the global stage, bringing with them a medley of flavours that offer a tapestry of tastes that transform traditional fine dining. Kenneth Foong at Copenhagen’s Noma sets a benchmark with his rise to Head Chef, while Ian Goh garners international recognition in Singapore with his heritage cuisine. Chariya Khattiyot translates Northern Thai traditions into MasterChef triumphs, Aaron Verzosa brings Filipino-American tales to Seattle’s food scene, and Sam Tran’s Michelin-starred journey celebrates Vietnam’s culinary history. These chefs embody the fusion of artistry and cross-cultural exchange, propelling Asian gastronomy to international prominence.
Photo Credit: @kennethfoongkm – Instagram
Photo Credit: Noma, Copenhagen’s Facebook Page
1. Kenneth Foong, Head Chef, Noma – Copenhagen
Kenneth Foong might have been a musician had he not swapped his jazz instruments for a chef’s knife. At 21 years old, he left Singapore to study at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. From there, the soft-spoken lover of zi char (Singapore local restaurant cuisine) and chicken powder (it’s one of his home pantry staples) went on to forge his career at marquee names like Eleven Madison Park (Line Cook), Betony (Sous Chef) and André (Sous Chef), before pursuing an internship at the famed NOMA in 2018, eventually rising to take the top job of Head Chef in 2020. Being Noma’s first Asia-born head chef is certainly no small feat but Kenneth rose to the occasion despite battling imposter syndrome. In 2021 he helped lead the restaurant to finally clinch three Michelin stars, a recognition he attributes to the whole team of “incredible human beings”. When asked by the Michelin Guide for advice for young chefs, Kenneth happily weighed in: “As a young chef, it’s not easy to already know what you want, so approach everything with an open mind and, of course, be respectful.”
Ian Goh, 29, secured a top-three spot in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022-2023 and earned a Fine Dining Lovers Food For Thought Award.
Photo Credit: S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy
Ian Goh’s signature dish | Photo Credit: S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy
2. Ian Goh, Sous Chef, Nae:um – Singapore
Taking part in the San Pellegrino Young Chefs 2022-2023 Competition – considered the culinary equivalent of the Olympics – is not for the faint of heart. For 29-year-old Ian Goh, it took an alcohol-fueled leap of faith and a deep desire to share “his [Hainanese] heritage and his chef journey” to submit his Heritage Lamb dish, one that went on to earn him a top three spot at the prestigious 2022/2023 edition of the competition. An accolade that was a year in the making, the experience saw him engaging with over 70 culinary peers and guided by mentors including Nae:um’s Louis Han, and Burnt End’s Dave Pynt who made sure he trained in various kitchens to “be as uncomfortable as possible”. This uncomfortability was key to Ian’s success, in an interview with Channel News Asia he shared: “he [chef-mentor Dave] pushed me to limits I’ve never experienced in any of the kitchens I’ve worked for. By working with him, I have more of a drive to succeed.”
3. Chariya Khattiyot, MasterChef Winner 2023
With no formal kitchen experience, Basingstoke-based coffee roaster Chariya Khattiyot was not an obvious front-runner for winning MasterChef but throughout the 8-week competition, the Chiang Mai-born amateur chef wowed the audience and judges with her flavourful, creative plates, described by MasterChef judge John Torode as “always exciting, it’s always unusual and it’s always been beautiful and addictive.” Inspired by her grandfather to make the most out of ingredients to “get the best flavours from food”, she channelled her passion for Northern Thai cuisine to a winning menu featuring dishes like a Thai lotus tuile filled with coconut jelly, fried king prawns, and pomelo fruit salad and a traditional northern Thai “khantoke” platter of Wagyu sirloin steak in hang le sauce, minced lamb in a spicy tomato and shrimp paste, jackfruit and scallop salad served with sticky rice and scallop crisp. Unafraid of criticism, Chariya’s never-give-up attitude gave her an edge over others. “I’m a person who really loves feedback as I want to be better. I like criticism because I can learn from it and get better.” shared Chariya in an interview with Great British Life. “I think that gave me an advantage because I listen and learn, and every time I go back, I’m better than the previous week. Some people couldn’t really take the criticism but, for me, I just love it!’”
4. Aaron Verzosa, Co-owner and Chef of Archipelago – Seattle
With just 12 seats and a fresh 2023 James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific, Seattle’s Archipelago helmed by Aaron Verzosa is one of the hottest tables to dine at this year. A tasting menu that invites diners on a culinary-cum-storytelling journey covering the history of Filipino influence on Pacific Northwest cuisine, Verzosa and his wife, Amber Manuguid have earned a following for its distinct “Filipino American-ness” dishes where tamarind gets substituted with wild lingonberries, sweet tubers turned into Filipino banana ketchup. Raised on Food Network shows, Verzosa who originally enrolled for medical school, pivoted to the Seattle Culinary Institute, going on to work at Spanish eatery The Harvest Vine and as an R&D chef for Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Bread. Drawing from the avant-garde techniques learned in the Modernist Cuisine’s cooking lab, Verzosa’s mission at Archipelago is to “amplify and showcase stories about Filipino American culture.” Together with the restaurant’s creed that, “there’s no one way to be Filipino,” it’s not just a hot table to book but one where every meal tells a new story.
5. Sam Tran, Head Chef and Founder, Gia – Vietnam
Gia’s head chef Sam Tran may be a household name now after becoming the first female chef to win a Michelin Star in Vietnam (and winning the first Young Chef Award in the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City 2023 edition). Still, this self-taught chef (she’s actually an information technology graduate) has been making waves in the culinary world for a while now. With more than 10 years in the kitchens working at world-renowned restaurants like Bawa Cafe and Sunda Dining in Melbourne, she’s returned home to helm Gia, an elevated fine-dining restaurant that focuses on Vietnamese culinary heritage using seasonal local ingredients and spices. “Through each dish at Gia, I want to tell the story of Vietnamese culture.” shared Sam in an interview following the Michelin win. “I want to tell the story of each piece of my life, the regions I have visited, the flavours passed down from generation to generation that I have tasted. These are stories worth discovering, preserving, and sharing.”
Photo Credit: Gia, Hanoi’s Facebook
As Asian cuisine and influence continue to grow in popularity, these chefs’ will be at the forefront of a changing culinary landscape, innovating and inspiring through their kitchens, elevating Asia’s food culture to receive the global spotlight it richly deserves.
Author: Charlene Fang
Charlene Fang is a US-based writer, editor and content strategist. Originally from Singapore, she writes for lifestyle and travel publications such as Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, Forbes Travel Guide and Louis Vuitton Guides and was previously an editor at CNNGO and Time Out. View her portfolio at www.charlenefang.co