Hats off to the chef
By Agnes Yu
Everybody needs to eat and preparing food is an art. A chef preparing food is a master of this art and artists need inspiration. Gathering roughly once a month at hotel restaurants or similar venues, a group of executive chefs and those in the related industry share not just inspiration, but good food and camaraderie. Charity work, interaction and networking are also on the menu.
Les Toques Blanches (LTB) is French for the white hats. It is the name of a formal, worldwide organization created in 1978 by Jean Rougie, a chef who noticed that there was limited opportunity for communication among culinary specialists. As many professional chefs work outside of their home country, it wasn’t long before the association grew beyond its French borders to open many international autonomous chapters.
Here in Korea, LTB began in 1982 with a small gathering of five executive chefs at the Westin Chosun Hotel. Under the umbrella of the Korean Chef’s Association, LTB Korea links hotel chefs, hotel food suppliers, culinary teachers, trade commissioners, and heads of tourism, chefs visiting from abroad as well as people in the food and beverage industry. Usually meeting on the first Monday of each month at a different location each time, some 60 to 85 people who work in hospitality get together to catch up and exchange information. At the meeting, suppliers can give presentations about their products; along with education on recent developments in the edible arts, new job openings and upcoming events are announced.
From the Hyatt Regency Incheon, Executive chef Mirko Agostini has been a member for four years since he came to Korea and tries to attend as often as possible despite the distance. ``The club is a great opportunity to find out about new trends and the meetings are casual and it’s easy to share ideas. I try to bring a guy from the team.’’ At the recent meeting he was accompanied by his sous chef, Hyun Jae-wook.
Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in March this year, LTB Korea recently registered as a nonprofit organization. In addition to a gala dinner and other commemorative celebrations, more notable is the charity work the group is pursuing.
For the past three years, the president of LTB Korea has been Remo Berdux who works in catering and menu design for major international airlines such as Asiana. He is responsible for steering the board that is elected yearly and for the charity work the group has been doing lately.
In order to benefit multicultural families especially in Gokseong where some nuns run a sort of safe house called WooriJip, (Our House) for women and children of mixed marriages, LTB Korea makes monetary donations each month and this past Christmas paid a visit with gifts and a holiday spirit. The group also sponsored a girl whose father had passed away and whose mother was ill so she could attend a culinary school in Incheon and who is now working at a bakery to support her family. Funds are also provided for the Mary Helen Hospice to benefit the elderly.
Berdux said, ``Our group has been steadily growing and getting involved in charity work is a great way to give back to the community and increase the participation of all our members. We want to encourage chefs to get more actively involved in LTB.’’
There are more than 200 accredited chefs throughout Korea and LTB Korea boasts 75 - 85 members of which 32 are chefs.
Only paying members are permitted to host and the most recent LTB Korea meeting was held at Esclusivo restaurant in Shinsadong, Seoul with member executive chef Sebastiano Giangregoriose preparing the spread.
Just as its name implies, Esclusivo provides customized dining for private parties in a very intimate setting as well as catering services. Different from restaurants that open for regular hours, Esclusivo only serves bookings made in advance with a menu that is devised especially for the specific client.
Suppliers play an active role in the monthly meetings and Daniel Kangas, the CFO for Indulge Korea, a wine and spirits importer said, ``Many chefs are friends and the events run on a tight budget. It’s easy to bring our products and share the cost with the venue as we can get feedback.’’
He added jokingly, ``And I like to drink my own stuff.’’
For more information visit www.lbtkorea.com.