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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Classic French cuisine reinterpreted

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Beef fillet Rossini topped with pan-fried duck foie gras. Photo supplied

Classic French cuisine reinterpreted

With twenty years of experience in the kitchen and working around the world with lauded Michelin-star restaurants such as L’Almandin, L’Astor, and Hostellerie Les Gorges de Pennafort, French Michelin-star Chef Nicolas Malherbe of the capital’s fine dining Van’s Restaurant has elevated the standards of French cuisine in Cambodia since his joining in 2009. A native from Perpignan in the south of France, he has revamped classic French gastronomy with his unexampled modern reinterpretation, complementing the regal architecture and culinary art within Van’s Restaurant.

In an interview Chef Malherbe speaks about the restaurant’s new menu, his personal favourite dishes, and how he enjoys combining the culinary tastes of various countries to create sterling cuisine.

What are the new items on the menu?
Our 2016 menu has items such as Canadian lobster, caviar, Wakame seaweed, organic quinoa, and Mekong Saphira (giant freshwater shrimp). We still keep our guests’ favourite dishes, but with a novelty twist. An example is our popular French delicacy escargot (snails), for which we chose one winning sauce out of six after testing with some of our regular customers.

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How often do you make changes to your menu?
We try to change our a la carte menu bi-annually, but the planning begins at least three months before. First we create the ideas and then we present the item, repeatedly cooking and tweaking until we are 100 per cent satisfied with the creation. Our popular separate business lunch menu (available daily) is also changed every month. A two-course meal is $15, and a three-course meal is $20.

As a French Michelin-star chef, is your cuisine particularly French?
The essence of my cooking is still French-influenced but from the experience I have gained working in many countries and for various Michelin-star restaurants, I like to use ingredients from around the world as well as cooking methods and styles I have learnt during my travels.

Where do you get your ingredients from?
Besides using local ingredients, I also use the best imported items such as New Zealand lamb, Australian beef, Japanese tuna, and snails and duck from France. I also have a French butcher, who exercises an international standard of hygiene, for the local pork.

What is the inspiration behind your incorporation of ingredients from Canada and Madagascar to modify the traditional Raviolis de homard French dish?
Both countries are well-known respectively for their lobster and vanilla bean, and I wanted to recreate this dish with these excellent globe-crossing ingredients. An ultra-light point of sweetness of the vanilla and the leek combined really enhances the lobster ravioli’s flavour.

One of the ingredients in Tartare de beuf is “Ebiko” caviar. Can you explain what that is?
Caviar “Ebiko” is prawn roe in Japanese, and we import it from Japan. This interesting land and sea combination lends a subtle sea iodine touch to the meat’s earthy taste.

What is your personal favorite on the menu?
My favorite dish is the Mekong Saphira with coconut rice and fresh mango. The Mekong Saphira is rare to find nowadays as most of it are exported. Its crunchy flesh goes well with the slight acidity and sweetness from my recipes with local lemongrass and mango.

Which dishes, new or old, do you recommend?
I would recommend our new version of Foie Gras: The “Declinaison autour du foie gras”, as you will get to try three different styles. For seafood; the Mekong’s Saphira prawn, seafood sauerkraut, and lobster ravioli. Meat lovers can try our beef ‘Chateaubriand’ flambéed with cognac in front of them, and the veal tenderloin. Our chocolate fondant with gold leaf and salty caramel heart, or our classic soufflé Grand Marnier is a beautiful finish to the dining experience.

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