Cambodian-French Executive Chef Sakal Phoeung, with over a quarter-century in luxury hospitality, has become a culinary star in Ho Chi Minh City. His journey includes leading roles at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra and Sofitel Saigon Plaza. Now at Le Corto & P’ti Saigon, he blends traditional French cuisine with innovative approaches, and as President of les Disciples d’Escoffier Vietnam, Sakal fosters community and culinary excellence. We had the opportunity to chat with Chef Sakal about his illustrious career in Gastronomy.
What brought you to the culinary industry? What does cuisine mean to you?
I was drawn to the culinary world by my deep-rooted passion for crafting dishes. To me, cuisine is more than a profession; it's a way of life, an art form that enables me to express my creativity and passion. Through the joy of food, I find a unique way to connect with people, sharing experiences and emotions with every dish I make.
How do you maintain your passion for the kitchen?
I maintain it by constantly seeking inspiration from a variety of cuisines and exploring new ingredients. As President of Escoffier Vietnam, I take great joy in sharing my knowledge of gastronomy with the new generation of Vietnamese chefs, fostering their growth, and helping to ignite their culinary passions.
Can you briefly describe your daily work schedule?
My daily schedule is quite intense. It starts with a visit to the morning market to check on seasonal products. Then, I discuss the daily menu with my team, overseeing kitchen operations and conducting briefings. Ensuring the quality of every dish is paramount to me, and I personally make sure everything runs smoothly throughout the day.
What was your defining objective when developing Le Corto and P’ti Saigon?
Eight years ago, in 2018, I fulfilled my dream of creating my own restaurant with the opening of Le Corto. As a chef, my ambition was to bring fine modern French cuisine and gastronomy to life in Saigon. Four years later, I opened P’Ti Saigon in Thao Dien. I fell in love with this villa and the idea of bringing nature into my culinary creations. This is embodied in our “P’ti Jardin,” where we hand-pick herbs, blending the essence of nature with our dishes.
A highlight of your career must have been serving the French President, Francois Hollande. What did you create for him?
When serving French President Francois Hollande, I had the honour of presenting a meticulously crafted menu, approved by Chef Guillaume Gomez of the Élysée Palace. This experience allowed me to showcase the finest elements of French gastronomy, an opportunity that underscored the depth and elegance of its culinary heritage.
Is there anyone you idolise in the culinary industry?
I hold immense respect for Auguste Escoffier, Alain Passard, and Didier Corlou, particularly for Corlou's pioneering approach in Vietnam. He was the first chef to masterfully combine Vietnamese cuisine with French culinary techniques, an inspiration that deeply influences my food.
Could you please describe your role and duties at the President of Vietnam Escoffier Association?
As President of Escoffier Vietnam, my role is the promotion of culinary education, the preservation of French culinary heritage, and the fostering of aspiring chefs. My duties extend beyond the kitchen; they involve shaping the culinary landscape in Vietnam and beyond, ensuring that the rich traditions of French cuisine continue to inspire and influence the next generation of chefs.