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Hong Kong-based chef gets first Michelin star for Venezuela

HONG KONG (AFP) – Arepas, tacos and an old family recipe of chimichurri: Ricardo Chaneton’s symphony of flavours familiar to Latin Americans has earned his Hong Kong restaurant a coveted Michelin star – the first awarded to a Venezuelan chef.

For Chaneton, who for so long was known for French cuisine, getting the star two years after his restaurant Mono’s opening is a source of great pride – as well as a “very nice weight” of responsibility.

“On that side of the world, everyone is watching us. The fact of being the first Venezuelan to have a Michelin star makes people put their eyes on you,” the 34-year-old chef told AFP.

“But I tell them not to worry because we are representing our continent and our countries in the best way we can.”

Located in Hong Kong’s upscale Central district, Mono has already received region-wide approval – in 2021, it was among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, the first such appearance for a Latin American joint.

It was initially billed as “contemporary French” because of Chaneton’s experience in Mirazur, the famed French Riviera restaurant voted the world’s best in 2019.

Venezuelan chef Ricardo Chaneton at his Michelin Star restaurant “Mono” in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

But a month into Mono’s opening, diners were already calling his restaurant Latin American, he said.

“That is what we wanted. That French element will always be there, but I was born in Venezuela, Colombian grandmother, Argentine grandfather, and that’s how I put in my own flavour,” the Caracas native said. Different accents of spoken Spanish can be heard from Chaneton’s open kitchen – his staff hail from Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil – and their dishes are a testament to the region’s diverse tastes.

On Chaneton’s menu is a French Racan pigeon fused with chimichurri and jicama – a root vegetable common in South American cuisine – and a wild Brittany turbot fillet that gets its vivid yellow colour thanks to annatto oil, popular in Latin and Asian dishes. The sides are also reminiscent of street food familiar to Venezuelans or Mexicans – like fresh corn hallaquitas, which are like Venezuelan tamales, or arepas filled with lobster and slow-cooked beef.

“We do not want to make a 100 per cent traditional cuisine, but it is based on our perception and our interpretation of nostalgia and taste memories,” the chef said.

Despite getting the star, Mono’s experience has been anti-climatic given Hong Kong’s coronavirus restrictions on indoor dining during an Omicron-fuelled wave.

Chaneton said he received news of the award on a January morning – the same day Hong Kong’s government told restaurants to stop indoor dining after 6pm.

“We had that bittersweet experience all in the same day,” Chaneton told AFP. “I can’t wait to provide Michelin star service at night.”

With cases ebbing, the government has announced that nighttime dining will resume on April 21.

He has no regrets over his circuitous path to his Michelin star, beginning in a Caracas pizza joint to mastering French cuisine under the leadership of legend Mauro Colagreco.

After working as the executive chef in Hong Kong’s Petrus at the Shangri-La Hotel before striking out on his own, Chaneton said he is grateful for how “fate has played” with his culinary journey.

“I think the most beautiful thing about Mono is that it is a window in Asia to the refined Latin American gastronomy,” he said.

“If I had won that star doing French cuisine, it would not have had the same weight.”