the wall street journal: what top chefs eat on the down low

The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal

Behind closed doors, some of the world's top chefs eat... canned meat? Kate Gibbs reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Ignatius Chan’s menus read like a shopping list of the world’s finest ingredients, from French Gillardeau oysters to Japanese snow crab. But when it comes to treating himself at home, the Singapore restaurateur’s tastes are decidedly more down to earth.

Take one of his favorite treats: MaLing, a canned, processed meat similar in look, feel and foodie-aversion to Spam. He slices it thinly and bakes it for an hour at 50 degrees Celsius, then eats it—crisp, oozing with oil—fresh from the oven. “My little secret,” he confesses, he indulges “late at night, and when I’m by myself.”

“People who eat at my restaurants would be horrified,” says Mr. Chan, chef-owner of Iggy’s, ranked among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants by San Pellegrino. “Sometimes I make more effort and have it with rice and a bit of chili,” he adds.

Mr. Chan isn’t the only high-profile chef who keeps his snacking habits low-profile. In a food-obsessed age where dishes are shared and scrutinized everywhere from reality TV to Instagram, chefs are expected to express their discriminating tastes 24/7.

But they too have their weaknesses, and some of them are ready to out themselves.

“You want me to confess my guilty food sin in front of everyone?” asks David Thompson, executive chef of Nahm, a Thai restaurant in Bangkok that also made the top 50 list. “All chefs have their earthly cravings, and mine is pizza. There is pleasure in junk.”

Mr. Thompson’s predilection for cheap, takeout pepperoni pizza, which he sneaks off to indulge in after work, may sound unlikely for a chef who has written several authoritative cookbooks on Thai cuisine. But it’s cheese, not chili, that he loves on a thin-crust pie, preferably burnt to a near crisp.

He also harbors a love of Kit Kat bars, a “private pleasure,” he says. “If you’re a serious cook, you have to secrete yourself from public view and eat, surreptitiously, your Kit Kat.”

Matt Abergel, whose restaurants Yardbird and Ronin have been among Hong Kong’s hottest openings in recent years, likes what he calls “airport sushi,” especially “those fake-crab and avocado California rolls.”

Would his former boss, Masayoshi Takayama, of the three-Michelin-starred Masa in New York, cringe?

Mr. Abergel stands by his choices. The difference between junk food and “good” food isn’t taste but how you feel afterward, he says. “Food like chips and burgers are engineered to taste good,” he adds. “People are embarrassed because they know how bad it is for them.”

Convenience foods are a necessary evil for busy workers in the hectic food industry, says Justin Quek, who travels between his restaurants Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Justin’s Signatures in Taipei and Bon Vivant in Shanghai. His go-to: Korean instant ramen in a Styrofoam cup, the spicier, the better.

While he doesn’t have a preferred brand, he keeps a stockpile in his kitchen as a late-night snack. “It is tasty because of the MSG,” he says. “As a chef, I know how bad this is for you, but it’s a quick, spicy fix.”

Also stashed in Mr. Quek’s pantry are cans of sardines in tomato sauce, which he heats up and eats in front of the computer. Nor is he immune to the charms of McDonald’s. “I go there because of my young son, who loves it,” Mr. Quek says, “but I’ll end up getting a cheeseburger.”

Iggy’s Mr. Chan, too, is a fan of canned sardines, though his recipe keeps some friends at bay. “I mash it up and have it with oatmeal, and I add pickles,” he says. “I know it’s unusual.”

Chefs sometimes keep their penchants to themselves because they think they ought to know better. The irony, Mr. Chan says, is that “we’re preaching to the world: ‘Here are the finest ingredients, here is the most refined and creative cooking.’” ....

Read the FULL ARTICLE on what chefs eat in The Wall Street Journal here.