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Jurgen Kauz, Our Boy in Hanoi


Jurgen Kauz, ebullient South African Executive Chef at the swanky five-star Meliá Hanoi speaks German (fluently), Indonesian (adequately) and Vietnamese (‘enough to get by’). Passionate about Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, he is a self-confessed workaholic and is bored by only one thought: “A nine-to-five job with weekends off!” Which is just as well. Time out isn’t part of his job description.
Kauz holds down a demanding position at a hotel that hosts the world’s rich, famous and powerful (during our stay U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan moved out as U.S. Secretary of Defence Rumsveld checked in). Voted as having The Best Convention Facilities in Hanoi in The Guide’s 2005 Awards published by Vietnam Economic Times, this boykie from KwaZulu-Natal is responsible for the food in two restaurants, three bars, an in-house deli, nine function rooms, the 1200-seater Grand Ballroom and 800-seater Long Ballroom.
Wanderlust struck in 1991 after training at the Royal Hotel in Durban under Werner Koch and stints with the legendary Victor Jansen at La Popôte and L’Artiste. He worked in Bali, Greece, London, Germany, Ibiza and Austria before settling in Vietnam, but still calls South Africa ‘home’, returning often to see his family and do consulting work.
It is easy to see why this frenetic city of three million people is so appealing to a chef of Kauz’s ilk. Dubbed ‘the Paris of Vietnam’, there are broad, shady boulevards, tranquil lakes, bustling markets and friendly smiles everywhere. (Not to mention the manic scooters peculiar to this corner of the world.) More importantly, the country’s cuisine scene is on the starting blocks, and there is a sense that hot and happening cooks are on the brink of great things.
While much of his time is spent managing menus, he adores cooking and lost no time in trotting out a delectable feast in the private dining room: starter platter (céviche of salmon and sea bass; beef tenderloin; sautéed prawns; mussels; spring rolls with olives and anchovies), followed by potato velouté with Serrano ham, morels and truffle oil, New Zealand lamb three ways, and an intricate dessert platter.
Though he has been away from South Africa for most of his professionall life, his roots run deep and coming home may be option, though not before motor-biking through Cambodia with a friend.
On his rare off-duty moments, Kauz chills with friends and expats in the casual, buzzing café society of the ‘old quarter’. He is still far from finished with Hanoi, it seems – and Hanoi is far from being through with him.
BEST EATING PLACES IN HANOI:
Vine. 1a Xuan Dieu, Quan Tay Ho, Hanoi. Boasts ‘the largest and most diversified wine list and menu in South East Asia, with plenty of local specialities. www.vine-group.com
L’Oriental. Melia Hanoi, 44b Ly Thong Street, Hanoi. Arguably the best Vietnamese fine dining in the country. www.meliahanoi.com
Little Hanoi. 21 Hang Gai Street, Hanoi. Happening café overlooking the rush and crush of the old quarter. Order cooling lime juice or Tiger beer, oven-warm baguettes, banana flower salad and other local delectations.
Restaurant Bobby Chinn. 1 Ba Trieu Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Quirky, off-beat restaurant with bags of attitude in the heart of the city: international aspirations with Asian attitude. www.bobbychinn.com

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Click the image for a view of: Chef Kauz buys fresh greens from a Hanoi street vendor
Chef Kauz buys fresh greens from a Hanoi street vendor
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