A cheesy affair…

A 360 degrees sensorial experience every Friday evening at the Sofitel Plaza Saigon. Executive chef Sakal Phoeung and his team offer a top quality cheese buffet  including a large selection of cheeses from France and other European countries,with some unexpected Vietnamese surprises as well.

The name wouldn’t give it away but Mr Phoeung grew up in Savoy, a French department located in the Alps. The area is famous for its excellent, rather heavy, heart warming and tasteful meat dishes, for the beautiful mountainous sceneries and of course for its wide cheese selection, one name for all, raclette. “If you grow up in Savoy, you will not only love cheese but you will think that all the cheeses are produced there. It was only later in life I understood that cheese can be made also elsewhere”, said Mr Phoeung.

Before working as a chef in Vietnam for Sofitel, Mr Phoeung worked in famous restaurants in France, lastly as a sous-chef in a one-star Michelin restaurant. After eight years in Vietnam he moved to China and Cambodia for a while but came back to work at the Sofitel once again a couple of years ago. “Why? Because I like it here, I had good memories of Saigon,” Mr Phoeung said. “It’s a dynamic city, where things happen. I have Cambodian origins and I loved the time I spent in Phnom Penh, but here things go faster, people are more interested in trying out new things and there are more financial possibilities for me to be creative as a chef.”

The cheese buffet is just one of the many successful culinary ventures at the Sofitel, but it’s one that requires knowledge and dedication. To bring in the cheeses Mr Phoeung said they use importers based in Vietnam: “We order the cheeses that we want every week for the next Friday: Monday they receive the order in France, Tuesday they assemble and pack, Wednesday the cheeses leave France, Thursday they arrive to the importer here in Vietnam and Friday I can display them on the buffet. Most cheeses actually have quite a long life and properly stored they can be kept for more than two weeks.”

“To promote cheeses you need to be professional: they can be tricky, so I recommend the person choosing the products is someone who knows cheeses. For example, we had for a while a variety of raclette, which I found was not good, clearly not produced neither in Switzerland nor in Savoy, which are the traditional areas of production. We changed, but it takes a connoisseur to understand that. It’s in the best interest of the client and the hotel to offer top quality products.”

To complicate everything, every single product requires a separate licence in Vietnam, so, one has to plan well in advance; “We are talking about informing the importer 3 to 4 months in advance”, said Mr Phoeung. “The slightest change for instance in the name of a specific product means a new application.”

There are more than 32 tantalising cheeses every week on display and it’s a real success, perhaps also due to the French tradition in the country:“I can clearly see that people are more knowledgeable about food now compared to when I first came here in 2000. Back in the days some people would just grab a whole cheese on the plate, taste a tiny bit and we just had to throw away the most of it,” said Mr Phoeung. “We encourage people to try everything and there’s always someone who can readily give some advice. We want everyone to take the most out of the experience.”

The cheese buffet at the Sofitel is every Friday from 6.30 to 10.30 PM, and it includes a free-flow of beer and wines.

For more information call: +84 3824 1555

Sakal Phoeung - Chef of Sofitel

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