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August 18, 2011

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Swiss chef keeps cooking simple

IN the lobby of Shanghai Marriott Hotel Changfeng Park, a smiling man wearing chef's whites often welcomes guests in his resonate voice. He is Albert Th?ny, the executive chef.

I have met him several times and his sunny smile is always there.

"For a chef, being happy is quite important. My mood is revealed by the dishes I cook," says the Swiss chef.

His passion for food is what keeps him smiling.

"For me, the world of food is exciting. Each ingredient has its unique smell and flavor," says Th?ny. He likes being close to nature, discovering and tasting various herbs, mushrooms and seafood.

"If I were not a chef, I would have been a farmer planting herbs, herding sheep and feeding cows," he jokes.

Cooking life

Th?ny was born in Klosters, a quiet, traditional village in Switzerland known for its ski resort.

"Being a chef may be partly because of my mother Elizabeth, a great cook. I was always with her in the kitchen during my childhood. She's good at making capuns, a traditional Swiss food made from sp?tzle dough with dried meat rolled in a chard leaf. Her cooking philosophy is making food simple and straightforward, which is now becoming my philosophy," says the chef.

When he was 23, after three years of cooking school, Th?ny began his world food journey. The famous Oyster Bar in New York City's Grand Central Station was his first stop. He then moved to Bangkok, then Manila, where he met his wife Renee, and then to Hong Kong.

"Working worldwide is a valuable experience. Every time I start working in a new place, I will learn the regional language to talk with the locals, learning their food culture, including ingredients and seasonings," he says.

His personal style is a combination of European and Asian cuisines.

Star rating

Ten years ago, when he was in his 40s, the chef opened his own hotel with a one-Michelin-star restaurant called The Rustico in Klosters. That was a moment he is especially proud of.

The small restaurant in a 100-year-old chalet features Swiss and Asian cuisines. The chef describes the food as "fabulous" and says his restaurant has attracted royal families, including Princes Charles, William and Henry, as well as film stars such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and supermodel Naomi Campbell.

"They come back again and again," says Th?ny. "What I care about most is not the Michelin star but the diners who are willing to come back, which directly shows their recognition of my cooking."

Life in Shanghai

Last year, Th?ny gave up his business in Switzerland and arrived in Shanghai to begin a new career.

"As a good chef, you should always keep creative and open-minded. Staying in one place for a long time is not helpful. Everything in Shanghai is new and exciting for me and inspires my cooking," he says.

His daily schedule is demanding. The executive chef not only works in the kitchen but also designs the menu, manages the team and visits suppliers to arrange for the freshest ingredients.

For a break, he sometimes goes to the hotel's Panorama bar, smokes a cigar and drinks a glass of wine.

On weekends he enjoys wandering the older streets of the city, discovering small and inconspicuous restaurants with excellent food and service.

"Haha, I am always eating. If I'm not eating in the kitchen, I'm eating outside," Th?ny laughs. "In my hometown, most of the restaurants are small and always full. Guests and chef are like old friends. Regretfully, there are only a few restaurants in Shanghai like that."

Th?ny is now looking for a private teacher for Mandarin lessons.

"Maybe some day I will open my own restaurant in Shanghai and talk with guests in fluent Chinese. Who knows!"


Linguine 70g, king prawns 100g, sea scallops 30g, clams 60g, mussels 60g, squid 40g, monkfish tail (minced) 30g, minced king prawns 30g, cherry tomatoes 40g, parsley 5g, dry white wine 30ml, fish stock 40ml, bisque 20ml, tomato sauce 100g, garlic 1 clove, a pinch of chili flakes, a pinch of sea salt and pepper


Mince the prawns and monkfish and saute together with 40g tomato sauce.

Heat the oil and scent it with garlic. Discard garlic, then pan-fry the king prawns and scallops for 4 minutes.

Add squid, clams and mussels and deglaze with dry white wine.

Add cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce (60g), fish stock, bisque, chili flakes and minced monkfish and minced prawns.

Cook gently until the clams and mussels open.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water for 7 minutes. Remove pasta just before it's done and finish by cooking it together with sauce for 3 minutes.

Add chopped parsley, mussels, clams. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve.

Cooking tips:

Use rock sea salt to boil pasta for better flavor.

Remember to remove garlic clove.

Albert Th?ny

Executive chef at Shanghai Marriott Hotel Changfeng Park, from Switzerland

Q: Do you have a special signature dish?

A: Italian pasta. It reflects my food opinion - the simpler the food, the better the taste.

Q: Where do you like to hang out?

A: Nolita, an Italian food restaurant on Dagu Road, which provides good pasta and pizza; and Velvet Bar on Julu Road with nice environment, great band.

Q: What do you cook for yourself?

A: I rarely cook at home. But fried pasta and kung pao prawns are what I am good at.

Q: Is there one dish you'll savor forever?

A: Hainan chicken rice. The pairing sauce made of chili and garlic creates a nice combination of flavors.

Q: Is there any food you hate?

A: No. I love all the food.

Q: Your most embarrassing moment?

A: When I worked in Manila, I prepared a big (kosher) banquet for a Jewish temple. By mistake, pork was delivered.


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