Chef Etienne Truter is doing big things overseas! The South African chef was recently appointed as the Executive Chef of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Busan, South Korea after spending over a decade travelling and working all over the world. So how did the Cape Town born and bred chef end up in such a far-flung locale?
After studying with Elsa van der Nest in Cape Town at what was then The Culinary Academy, Chef Etienne interned with Chef Graeme Shapiro at his restaurant, which gave him a taste for Asian cuisine. After working in a restaurant, he decided to work at the Commodore in the Waterfront to gain hotel experience. “I learned that there is a lot more involved in working in a hotel [than I’d previously thought] and realised that I needed to go overseas to gain more experience,” he says.
The chef left South Africa to work abroad in 2004, wanting to challenge himself with new experiences, and worked in establishments such as Emirates Towers Vu’s Restaurant and Café Chic at Le Meridien Dubai, Jing Restaurant Constance Halaveli Maldives and The Chedi in Oman. Then he was offered his first opportunity to work in Asia. “I came to Hong Kong to work in the famous iconic Mandarin Oriental Hotel the excelsior Tott’s and I immediately fell in love with Asian culture and dynamics.”
He then joined the Hyatt group as Executive Sous Chef at the Grand Hyatt Seoul, one of the biggest food and beverage operations for Hyatt in Asia. The chef then moved to the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto, Japan, where he took on the position of Executive Chef, before moving to his current position as Executive Chef of Park Hyatt Hotel Busan.
We chatted with the chef about his experiences, challenges and if South African chefs bring any particular strengths to an international kitchen:
As a South African working abroad, were there any challenges initially?
Of course, language was a challenge, but kitchen language is very universal so as you travel you get used to it. Another challenge was learning and adapting to other cultures because every culture has unique ways of doing things and addressing people.
Are there any particular strengths that you think South African chefs bring to the table in international kitchens?
South African chefs are strong minded because they are creative and they really know what they want. They can work with many cultures and some are very passionate, pushing themselves to the limit to get more knowledge.
Can you tell us a bit about the culinary landscape in South Korea, where you’re currently based?
I moved to Busan in South Korea in 2018 and am the Executive Chef of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Busan, looking after all culinary operations. I am in charge of a brigade of 75 chefs. I manage three restaurants, one patisserie, two bars, and a banquet operation which can cater for 1000 people in our banquet rooms and also 1 500 outside catering.
Can you tell us a bit about the cuisine that you’ve experienced while working in different Asian countries?
The cuisine is very different from country to country. Korea is little spicy and has beautiful fermented vegetables and Kimchi which tastes different between the cities. Japan has amazing flavours of food, with amazing seasonality of fruits and vegetables. During my time in Kyoto, I learned a lot about the beautify of Kaiseki, which is a Japanese multiple-course meal.
While in Hong Kong, I learnt about Chinese herbal medicine, and how to use it in food – and of course the dim sum there is just amazing. In Asia, especially Japan and Korea, the pastry and bakery items are to die for. Here, any chef can see and learn so much from the pastry and bakery skill in these countries alone.
Can you tell us a little bit about one of your favourite dishes on your current menu?
Because our hotel is opposite the ocean, we have a dish called Black Scallop. This dish with a story tells people to be aware of our oceans dying and that we need to educate ourselves. The dish consists of a scallop which is coated black with smoked aubergine puree, charred leeks and onions, squid ink and thyme sponge, caviar and marinated mushrooms.