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Bobby Chinn on his new London ‘home,’ ego food and how The Farm at San Benito changed him

The author Cheryl Tiu and Bobby Chinn in Soho, London    

I first met celebrity chef Bobby Chinn through STAR assistant lifestyle editor Therese Garceau at the opening of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in 2010. I had watched his show World Café Asia and was thrilled at the opportunity. We kept in touch and eventually became good friends, catching up in Manila, Singapore, and most recently, London.

Bobby off-camera is the same Bobby on-camera — energetic, honest and entertaining; sometimes loud, sometimes brash, but also kind, thoughtful and compassionate. (Once after dinner at Spices at the Peninsula Manila, he had the leftovers wrapped and asked me to find street children to give them to on my way home. He also likes staging charity events with his good friend Café Ysabel chef/proprietor Gene Gonzalez).

Based in Vietnam since 1996, he moved to the UK in 2013 to open his latest venture, House of Ho, in London’s bustling Soho. (It’s around the corner from the Les Miserables theater). The restaurant, which occupies the former site of The 2is Coffee Bar, otherwise known as the Birthplace of British Rock ‘n’ Roll and the modern pop industry, serves modern Vietnamese cuisine, mostly sharing plates (the Warm Duck à la Banana Blossom Salad is my favorite), and a mean cocktail list in the evening. While Bobby insists he’s a “fly on the wall” in London, he is still a recognizable personality: within the hour that we sat lunching by the restaurant’s side street, a Singaporean couple, a bevy of giggling Japanese teenage girls, a Middle Eastern man and a couple of Americans had either excused themselves to ask for a photo, told him how much they loved his show, or stopped in their tracks to stare at him.

We catch up with the New Zealand-born half-Chinese, half-Egyptian WWF Ambassador for Sustainable Seafood Production and Tourism Ambassador for Vietnam in Europe to see how his life has been since his move to London and his plans for the future.

PHILIPPINE STAR: How’s life in London?

BOBBY CHINN: I moved here about two years ago to open House of Ho. I was educated in England and went to college in London so there’s a certain familiarity with this city. I enjoy walking so I walk to work every morning and back. In the hour that I walk, I visualize, I problem-solve, I just think about the stuff that I want to do, and on weekends I like to go to Hyde Park. I love the theater. Museums are free here. You can actually get a lot of cultural mileage from everything in London and that’s what I do enjoy. I don’t care where I am (in the world), I just try to have a good time, so it’s good.

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My restaurant in Hanoi was a mixture of Moroccan, Californian, French, Italian, a little Japanese and Vietnamese. At House of Ho, it’s strictly modern Vietnamese. There are dishes that are authentic but take modern twists. For example, the Duck à la Banana was inspired by the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. No one does that, it’s usually duck l’orange. So I did a lemongrass duck confit with banana blossoms traditionally made with chicken — chicken’s kind of boring; duck confit is a little more interesting. There’s also ego food here (dishes that a chef takes on as a personal challenge). The British have a penchant for pork belly and I noticed that at (Israeli restaurant) Ottolenghi, he’s serving pork belly — when does a Jewish guy cook pork belly? There’s no real pork in this region. From my Chinese side, I know how to do pork, and from the American side, barbecue pork. And in my travels, I’ve learned a lot about different aspects of this dish and technology. So we did an (apple-smoked) pork belly that’s brined for 24 hours then braised in an oven at exactly 67 degrees for 48 hours then weighted — the skin turns to gelatin after two days if you’re braising — then we score it, portion it and put it in the refrigerator to pellicle — I learned in Ireland that by drying the meat and then cold-smoking it, you can absorb more smoke — then we braise it and serve it. That dish is traditionally made with a pork shoulder and takes 25 to 35 minutes. I said “Let’s try to elevate it to another level” — and this takes five days to prepare.

What else are you busy with and what can fans expect from you in the future?

On a recent trip to the Philippines, I went to The Farm at San Benito. That was, out of all the places (I was detoxing at), the place that really made me think differently and inspired me to a completely different level. It wasn’t just The Farm, it was the people that went there that I met as well. I had done a TV show called Detox and I wanted to make it much more. I want to give a food lovers’ guide to holistic approach to eating and cooking. I’m looking to do a different TV show. I want to grow. Growing is scary because you don’t know if you’re going to grow better or you’re going to fail. Failing to me is an education. My best lessons are from my mistakes. I like to put myself at risk because I feel alive when I am; if not, I’m stagnant.

 

 

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House of Ho is located at 55-59 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1D 6HW. Closest tube: Leicester Square/ Piccadilly Square. On Sundays, they have a brunch special: for only £29, you get a lychee Bellini, edamame and crackers, three sharing plates, one signature Ho dish, jasmine rice, morning glory, dessert, and unlimited bubbly. For reservations and inquiries, phone +44 20 7287 0770 or visit houseofho.com.

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You can reach me at inbetweendeadlines@gmail.com, on my blog www.cheryltiu.com, on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/cheryltiu or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/chertiu. Photos by CHERYL TIU

 

 

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