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Why this French chef loves American food

By: Melissa Stevens

When you meet Laurent Tourondel, the first thing that strikes you is how genial and down-to-earth he is given his level of success. His empire may currently include an impressive 13 restaurants around the world, three critically acclaimed cookbooks and numerous industry accolades, but you wouldn’t know it when he sits down for a chat while in Hong Kong. Laurent is visiting his fine-dining waterfront restaurant, BLT Steak in Harbour City, and his more casual classic American burger joint, BLT Burger, and while he appears relaxed, he ruefully admits he now has a work schedule that makes him seem more American these days than a native of France.

Laurent Tourondel
Laurent Tourondel

“I know, it’s sad!” he laughs. “One day I’ll go back to my French roots.” But it’s been a long time since he lived in France, having worked in Russia and then in the most exclusive echelons of British dining at famed gentleman’s club Boodles, before going stratospheric in the US.

Looking back now, he credits his time in London as the turning point where he became serious about cooking as a career. “It was there that I defined my career by a style of cooking I wanted to apply to the rest of my career. I wanted to be accessible,” he says. “I really try to deliver what people want to eat. I’m not a fancy chef.”

Laurent’s greatest notoriety is through his steakhouses, recognised as the pinnacle of American dining, with an industry identity no less than Bobby Flay declaring, “If you want really true American food, you have to eat Laurent’s food.”

Laurent says the idea to reinvent the American steakhouse concept came when French fine dining was in the doldrums in New York.

Laurent Tourondel BLT Steak

“Now, a lot of chefs are doing steakhouses, but when I first created the concept of BLT Steak I was alone in New York city,” he recalls. “People said ‘Why’s this French guy doing a steakhouse?’ Up until then, steakhouses were a Wall Street thing – white tablecloths, very macho restaurants. I thought about how could I approach it and make it more for women.”

This chameleon-like ability to adapt is one Laurent believes is the secret to his success. “You have to adjust to your environment,” he says. “I don’t think I ever had a vision about this – writing a book, having a restaurant; I don’t think it was a goal, it just came, and I took the right opportunities with the right people.”

“I never wanted to own restaurants,” he adds. “And now I’m onto my 52nd – yeah, it’s nuts!”

• BLT Steak is at Shop G62, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui |
• BLT Burger is at Shop 301, L/3, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui |

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