CHEF Sang-Hoon Degeimbre, 37, is one of the top exponents of molecular gastronomy in Belgium.
Born in South Korea, he was an orphan who migrated to Belgium at the age of four when he was adopted by a couple there. He started his career as a sommelier at the age of 17. A self-taught chef, he opened his own restaurant, L'Air du Temps, in 1997 on the outskirts of Brussels.
It earned a Michelin star three years later. In 2002, he ventured into molecular gastronomy, which is a school of cooking that uses scientific methods to create food with unexpected tastes and textures. He had trained under Herve This, a French scientist who first coined the term molecular gastronomy. A seven-course degustation meal at Degeimbre's restaurant costs about 75 euros (S$153). He is married to Carine, a Belgian who manages his restaurant. They have three daughters aged nine to 15.
The polite, mild-mannered chef was in town last week for the World Gourmet Summit. He presented his dishes at the Grand Hyatt.
How many molecular gastronomy dishes have you created?
More than 1,000. We change our menu every six weeks. We're like children, always excited to create the next new texture.
What's your signature dish?
The 63 deg C egg. You immerse an egg in water at 63 deg C and what you get is egg white that's like jelly and egg yolk that's liquid. We serve it with truffle mousse or morel mousse, depending on the season. We also have green apple cigar. You whisk 99 per cent green apple juice with 1 per cent methyl cellulose. It'll become a mousse and we roll it up with a 'leaf' made of apple pulp. Then we wrap it all up in candy paper so it looks just like a cigar.
Do your customers actually feel full after a meal, or is it just fun food?
They've told us that they're not bloated but feel satisfied because they had the real pleasure of tasting food. So, no, there's no need to go out and eat something else.
What's the most surprising dish you've created?
Liquid ravioli of yogurt and verbena. It looks like a reverse egg - inside is a white-coloured yolk made of verbena-flavoured yogurt and outside is a yellow-coloured egg white made of mango soup.
What's the biggest disaster you've had in experimenting with new dishes?
Without a doubt, using the siphon for the first time in 1999. It's a canister with a nitrous oxide cartridge inside that helps turn things into mousse. When I first tried it, it turned out either too hard or too soft. I almost threw it away. But now I have 20 siphons in my kitchen. You can make mousse out of anything - beetroot, foie gras - as long as you know what proportion of ingredients to use.
Do you eat normal food?
(Laughs) Yes. My favourite dish is Belgian meatballs in tomato sauce. I make it only once a year because I'm too busy. But when I make it, it'll take 24 hours to prepare. You need to marinate the meat to make it taste good. I also like Asian food like chicken rice and curry. To me, it's really comfort food.
What's your favourite smell?
I love citrus smells like verbena and lemongrass. It's so fresh and light.
What do you always have in your fridge at home?
A bottle of champagne. There's always an occasion to celebrate. Even the passing of each day. But I'm not an alcoholic (laughs).
What do you like to cook for your wife?
Very easy. I just shuck some raw oysters and squirt some hollandaise mousse on top. She loves it.
Describe the best meal you've ever had.
It was in Holland in a three-Michelin-star restaurant called Oud Sluis. The food was beautiful, technical and very impressive. I don't usually like dessert but I loved the one I had there. It had the taste of lemon in different forms - foam, biscuit, mousse, cream.
What's your favourite junk food?
Potato chips, salt and pepper flavour. But don't tell anyone.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
Going somewhere I'd never been before and eating something completely new.