The way to a tourist's heart"¦

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"¦is through his stomach, says André Bosia, Executive Chef of Sofitel Metropole Hanoi

A street food vendor sells pho and various other dishes in Hanoi

André Bosia, who worked in France, Scotland, Austria, Egypt, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Japan before he took up his current position in Vietnam four years ago, told Vietweek that Vietnamese cuisine, which is fresh and tasty, can be a great ambassador for the country and should be promoted abroad.

Vietweek: How did you come to Vietnam?

André Bosia: I had always wanted to come to Asia, so when the position came up at Sofitel Metropole, I was very interested. I already knew Vietnamese food, as the Vietnamese community in France is quite big. There are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in Paris, and I always go there. So, I came here, and have worked for four years at Sofitel Metropole now.

When I arrived here and saw with my own eyes all these wonderful things, I wanted to discover more of the culinary art of Vietnam through the prism of French gastronomy.

At Metropole Hanoi, what do you do to make Vietnamese food different from what is offered by restaurants in Paris?

With the help of Hai and Van, who are the Vietnamese chefs of Sofitel Metropole's restaurants, we make some food with a combination of French and Vietnamese styles. For example, we make nem (spring roll), a popular Vietnamese food, with foie gras and green mango. Foie gras is very common in France. At the Metropole hotel, Vietnamese food is a combination of both cultures.

You come from a country famous for its gastronomical delights. What is it that makes you like Vietnamese food?

France is very famous for its food, but French food is very different from Vietnamese food. In France, we use a lot of butter, cream, and similar ingredients. In Vietnam, you use a lot of fish sauce. You also use a lot of steamed vegetables and fish. So, your food is very light, while in France, food is very heavy. You don't put butter and oil in the food. You use a lot of herbs. Your cuisine is very tasty and very light.

However, Vietnamese food is not easy to make, it takes long time to learn, a lot of practice.

How attractive is Vietnamese food compared to that of other Asian countries like as China, India and Thailand?

Indian food has many spices, especially powdered spices such as paprika, chili, and cumin. Vietnam uses fewer spices than India and China, while Thailand has a lot of strange food like scorpions. Vietnam uses a lot of fresh herbs. For example, we use garlic, onion and dill in making chả cá a special fish dish in Hanoi. We don't use powdered spices.

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In Vietnam, everything is fresh. You don't cook now for tomorrow's eating. You do now for now. In France or some other Asian countries, we sometimes prepare food now and cook tomorrow. When I worked in Japan, we bought vegetables for three days. In Metropole Hanoi, every day we receive salad (vegetables), fish, meat, egg, herbs. We buy and use for only one day. So I think the taste is very good. Vietnamese food is light and fresh, and it is good for health, so many people in the world like it.

Some countries are strengthening promotion of their traditional food to boost tourism. Should Vietnam do this as well?

Yes, you should. I think Vietnam has started doing this. Last year travel agent Hanoi Tourist sent two chefs to France to promote Vietnamese food and organized a discover Vietnam program. You do this many times in Europe, and Vietnamese food will become well known in the continent. I think promoting its cuisine will get more people interested in Vietnam. It is an effective way to lure foreign visitors to Vietnam.

As chefs, we can use Vietnamese products, introduce them to our colleagues and customers. They would ask me how to use it. I would tell them, and say there are a lot of good products in Vietnam like fish sauce, black pepper and cinnamon. There are many items European people like, but they don't know where they can get them.

It will be very good if Vietnamese food is promoted abroad. For example, the Vietnamese community in Australia is very big, and many Australian people don't cook much, so they may go to Vietnamese restaurants. And after eating Vietnamese food in Sydney, they would find that it is very good, very tasty and easy to eat. Then they would be more interested in Vietnam.

What is the most important quality that determines the success of a chef?

The most important thing is that you want to learn. There is no fixed recipe. Sometimes, you have to change ingredients to make food better. For example, each time you cook, you should put only 10 grams of herbs into the food, until the recipe is balanced. Thus, you need to practice a lot, and find something special to add to a dish. And to become a good chef, you need to have good taste. Aptitude is also very important.

Is there any change you would like to see in Vietnam's food business?

Hygiene is very important. The country should increase control over food hygiene, checking product quality more often. Many people get food poisoning although the situation has improved a lot over the past three years. One of my friends was sick for three days after eating bún (noodle) sold in the outside market. You need to follow hygiene regulations. All restaurant staff should undergo training in food hygiene.

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