Chef-owner Mono Hong Kong – Ricardo Chaneton
In this interview, Ricardo Chaneton, chef-owner of Mono Hong Kong, shares some insight into being the first Venezuelan chef-owner of a restaurant awarded a Michelin star.
What do you do?
I am the chef and owner of Mono restaurant Hong Kong, Asia’s window into refined Latin American gastronomic culture.
How did you get into the industry?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor. When I was 17 years old, I applied to medical school but didn’t get in. So then, I decided to pursue a culinary career. I loved going to culinary school, I worked while I studied. My first job was at an Italian restaurant: they served dishes such as pastas and pizzas. It was a very simple restaurant owned by a friend of my dad. I worked there as a kitchen helper. I washed the pots, pans and plates, I chopped onions. It was like a movie. But I wanted to grow in the industry. I decided to keep pushing and finding new restaurants to work in and learn from.
I worked in a sushi restaurant, where I first learned what it was like to work in a kitchen, how it’s operated and how to keep it organised.
I realised I wanted to pursue something bigger, so I went to the Intercontinental Tamanaco in Caracas, working under Thomas Fernandez. I worked with him for one year, where I met my friend Jean-Luis who told me to try interning in a Michelin-star restaurant in Spain. That was the first time I heard about Michelin, and so I went to Spain to work at Quique Dacosta. Since that day, I haven’t been back to Venezuela.
I learnt a lot at Quique. It showed me how to open my brand and taught me a lot of technical information about food and restaurants. It taught me the “why” of things, I learned to question myself and everything around me, such as why fish needs to be cooked at 60 degrees instead of 40 degrees or why you need to put salt in water.
I worked at Quique Dacosta for a year when the maître d proposed I go to a restaurant called Mirazur in France. Even though I didn’t know how to speak French, I sent my resume to Mirazur and Mauro, the owner of Mirazur, replied, saying they needed somebody immediately. I finished my contract at Quique Dacosta and took a train to France. In France, one of my first challenges was to learn the language and the culture. I stayed there for seven years.
At Mirazur, I learned to cook with feelings, with the heart. It might sound cheesy, but when you think about the client’s face while you’re plating a dish, you know who you’re cooking for, and it gives your cooking intention. The intention is one of the most important things a chef can have in a kitchen. Mauro taught me about seasonality and the importance of respect for nature and the garden. I learnt a lot about taking inspiration from the garden and seasonal produce. When creating dishes, I am inspired by seasonal produce. With Mauro, I learnt that everything is possible.
Mirazur closes for three months a year. I used to work during those three months to buy utensils and prepare for the next season. In 2015, my last year at Mirazur, Mauro suggested I run the restaurant during winter for the first time in the restaurant’s history. He gave me the keys to the restaurant and told me, “This is your restaurant for three months. You can do your own menu, but remember to respect the restaurant, our objectives, and our philosophy, and uphold the quality and standards we have always maintained.”
It was a beautiful show of trust from Mauro. This was the best gift he could have given me in seven years of working there. He was essentially saying, “This is my house, but now it is yours.” I made it work. We opened for the first time in the history of Mirazur. We had limited seating and limited staff but did very well in terms of revenue.
After that, I decided to move and got a job in Shangri La in Hong Kong, where I worked for almost four years as an executive chef at Petrus, a traditional fine-dining restaurant in Hong Kong. Petrus is the first restaurant where I got to do my own cuisine, where I created the menu and dishes and put my name on them. I am grateful to Shangri La for the opportunity to work at Petrus because it brought me to Hong Kong and will forever be a big part of my history.
It was a big challenge to work in a hotel. Hotels have many rules, parameters to respect and personalities to satisfy. One of the most important things I learnt at Petrus was how to be a boss.
One day, I decided to move back to South America. Many people asked me what I was going to do when I moved. One of those people was Yenn Wong. I thought she was going to ask me to be a chef in one of her restaurants, I never thought she would ask me to be partners in crime in a joint venture. So, I came back to Hong Kong, and we opened MONO together.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
I once had a remarkable guest, a young girl who, at the tender age of five, sat down with her parents for a full twelve-course meal. It was white truffle season, and when I approached the table, she began to share with me what she knew about truffles – their name and how they are harvested. Her depth of knowledge and appreciation for food amazed me, instilled in her by her parents and some natural curiosity and passion.
What food memory from your childhood or travels stands out?
One of my earliest memories is going to the bakery with my grandpa when I was five or six years old. We always bought baguettes or baguette-style bread, and the tip of the bread, the crunchy crust, was my favourite. I remember the smell of freshly baked bread and the feel of the hot bread in the bag when we walked home. Sometimes, we would sit in the town boulevard, and I would break off the tip of the bread, eat the crust and feed the white fluffy centre to the pigeons.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job as chef-owner at Mono?
Owning my own restaurant and having my name on it is a huge responsibility. I have many people depending on me to do my job properly and be a good role model. As the chef-owner of Mono, I essentially represent 16 souls from four different nationalities working in the restaurant. It’s an amazing experience, a dream come true. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in these three years, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
What’s one of your favourite food and beverage pairings?
Mate tea and alfajores; the bitterness of the tea neutralises the sweetness of the dulce de leche – the two harmonise on the palate.
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
I remember once when I was working in Spain, the chef de cuisine soaked his hat in liquid nitrogen and began running around the kitchen screaming while the rest of us were cleaning the exhaust.
The perfect day off would be…
Sitting on a beach with a cold coconut in hand, doing absolutely nothing.
A day in the life of the chef-owner of Mono is…
Meetings, cooking, service, meetings, cooking, service; in that exact order.
What does Ricardo Chaneton do for fun?
I like to play the guitar or make music.
What would you like guests to know about Mono or your role as chef-owner?
Mono is very personal to me. It’s a place where I showcase my life’s story – where I come from, where I have been, and where I am now. Everything is drenched in nostalgia and curated with intention.
How have you grown in your profession? What are your key learnings from your start in the industry until now? Any misconceptions?
I not only became the first Venezuelan chef with a Michelin star but was also awarded for my focus on Latin American gastronomy. This is an incredible achievement for me personally and for Venezuela as a collective. I represent a country that is not well known for its cuisine – but has very delicious food. Initially, I believed that to be the best, you must work hard, but as I move through my career, I find that consistency is the true key to mastery. If you water it a little daily, it will grow.
What do you want people to know about being a chef as a profession?
In my opinion, being a chef is the world’s most complete profession; to succeed, you need to wear many hats – cook, designer, financer, entertainer, and the list goes on.
What’s your view on the food and beverage scene in Hong Kong?
Vibrant, dynamic, evolving, and diverse – you can have a very good meal of any kind of cuisine in the world. It’s a definite must for professionals in the industry and foodies alike.
What practices do you currently implement as chef-owner of Mono or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?
Mono’s whole menu is sustainable since we source our ingredients from ethical and responsible farms that share our values. We use only organic, free-range eggs and responsibly sustainable seafood (MSC certified) from a trusted supplier. We work with a local farm (urban growth) for herbs, and we try to avoid waste by using all parts of the raw ingredients where possible.
When we built the restaurant, we looked into using recycled materials whenever possible. The white panels at the restaurant are made of recycled linen, while all the lights in the venue are being used as low-consumption lights.
To reduce the bottle consumption and carbon print of purchasing bottled water, we use Nordaq, a tap-filtered still and sparkling water system that allows us to make our own “bottled” water. Additionally, we have switched to biodegradable film paper for our food wrapping. All of our receipts are printed on recycled paper and presented to the guests in seed envelopes that can be planted into the soil to encourage a greener life.
Our staff are encouraged to implement small actions such as turning off the lights, using less water when possible and using all parts of the ingredients in our dishes. We believe sustainability is a way of thinking rather than a one-off action. It’s a philosophy that everyone in your restaurant has to be on the same page and apply in the restaurant every day.
In the long term, I hope we can make Mono’s operations more sustainable and even become carbon neutral.
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
More inspired, refined, and boundary-pushing Latin American food. I am excited to continue exploring the incredible produce available to us in Hong Kong within South East Asia, and the rest of the world.
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Didn’t manage to become a doctor? Ah well! As long as what he’s doing makes him happy, that’s the most important. Hat off to all their efforts to maintain sustainability! Pat on the back for that!