When we think of local figures who have attained success we often think of those in the public eye first and foremost. People in sport are national heroes, TV stars are revered, politicians polarise as best they can on a regular basis and people in business often get a spread or two in the papers. It is not that we neglect to recognise other fields – it may be just that they are not as actively present in our daily lives.
A chef typically, barring the folk who are invested in cooking shows, are simply seen by people as someone who prepares something they want to eat. They are but a horde who hangs out, out of sight, in a kitchen to most and they are not seen for what they are or potentially can be – artists and craftsman. For like any other trade one has to endure the rigours of strenuous schooling. Only a handful really makes it into the top stratums of the cooking world.
We should therefore be pleased that we have a chef from our very own shores currently stamping his mark on the culinary world the globe over. His name is Etienne Truter, a humble Capetonian, but a fierce pioneer in his craft. His talents has seen him cook and command in the world’s best restaurants for over a decade now. All of Japan, South Korea, Oman, Hong Kong and the UAE are better off, food-wise, because of his endeavours.
Cooking has always been a family affair in the Truter house. His father and grandmother were very much involved in the art – they served as his prime inspiration – and between them a few restaurants were owned and managed, too. Naturally a passion for food manifests rather early in one’s life, but Etienne started cooking in earnest at the age of 22 only; he is 36 now, but he has already racked up 14 years’ worth culinary expertise despite his young age.
“When you choose to become a chef and you get experience then your passion and curiosity gets more and more because you get to a certain level where you have to keep giving your guests that unique experience. There is no better feeling than to see people smile and laugh around the table when they take that first bite. Then you know all the hard work pays off but that turns the basic into a will to learn more to showcase more,” he says.
Etienne’s formal training started at what is now called The Hurst Academy in Paarl. For years he had to hone each and every one of his skills – typically in a European style of cooking under the tutelage of legendary chefs, Elsa van der Nest and Graeme Shapiro. Van der Nest and Shapiro would prove a great source of motivation. It was these two mentors of his who urged him to try his hand at Asian cuisine, something he never gave much thought to prior.
“Asia was not in my mind yet,” Etienne says. He had to sharpen his skills in signature restaurants in Cape Town, Dubai, the Maldives and the Sultanate of Oman before he went east. It has been quite a journey since then. “I came to Hong Kong to work in the iconic Mandarin Oriental Hotel and I immediately fell in love with the Asian culture and dynamics. I love the Asian mentality because it is genuine, warm and friendly. I love the way people approach their food and hospitality.”
This set in motion an idea and it very much involved the East. He wanted more in his career, however. His skills had to be developed even further. This had him wade his way into the Asian arm of the Hyatt hotel group. He moved on to join the Grand Hyatt Seoul as executive sous chef in South Korea which is one of the biggest food and beverage operations for Hyatt in Asia. After his successes in Seoul, the company moved him to become executive chef in the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto, Japan.
Etienne Truter spent the last three years at Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kyoto. There he led a brigade of 75 people as the executive chef. He steered three unique wining and dining venues, an artisan deli, a patisserie, bars and a banquet venue to great success with his modern European dishes with an Asian touch using ingredients sourced from nearby markets. It must be noted, too, that during his time there the Hyatt Regency was named one of the top 10 hotels by Conde Nast in March 2016.
Japan is somewhat of a hot destination for chefs and here he not only learned about Japanese cuisine but also had to opportunity to stamp his mark on the local food scene. He subsequently moved to the legendary Park Hyatt Busan in South Korea as executive chef where he is leading a team to phenomenal success, innovation and as leaders in the local culinary scene. He is currently one of the youngest executive chefs in the Hyatt group.