With his first restaurant Ricardo Chaneton has had a baptism of fire, having opened Mono towards the end of 2019, months before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Now it is the first modern Latin American to be included on the list since it was launched in 2013, entering in 44th place.
On the phone from his adopted home in Hong Kong, the Venezuelan chef talks about his pride at receiving this accolade. “It is an incredible privilege to be able to showcase my Latin American heritage in the place I now call home,” he says.
“We are very honoured but credit also goes to Asia’s diners as this recognition underscores the progressive and dynamic nature of this region’s culinary landscape that it allows for concepts like ours to thrive.”
Journey through Europe
His journey from Venezuela to opening his own restaurant in Hong Kong saw him learning from the chefs behind some of the best restaurants in Europe along the way – he spent three years with Quique Dacosta in his eponymous restaurant in Spain before joining Mauro Colagreco at Mirazur, currently the holder of the title as the World’s Best Restaurant. Chaneton spent seven years with Colagreco in France and eventually took the helm as the head chef of Mirazur. Next came Hong Kong.
After four years living in Hong Kong where he was in charge of the kitchen at Petrus at the Island Shangri-La, it was time to launch his own venture, in partnership with JIA Group. Opening Mono, a refined representation of Latin American cuisine, is exactly as great as he’d expected. “It is very hard work, you need to manage a lot of things, but it is a great experience. I would recommend it to everybody,” he says.
A unique proposition
He describes Hong Kong’s restaurant scene as very diverse. “You have good food everywhere and all of the cuisines of the world are represented here,” he says. Yet, there was a gap for what Mono set out to provide. “Mono fits in well because it is very unique; it is one of the cuisines that didn’t exist in Hong Kong,” he says.
With Mono he wants to give guests a perception of what he calls the real South America, a blend of flavours and produce that is unique. Many of his team are from South America and have followed the same path as him through the Michelin starred kitchens of Europe. The mission is to provide an authentic and unique proposition that represents a blend of the flavours and produce of the region, but in a more refined way. “We have a certain standard of work that is very high level,” he says.
There’s a level of education involved in that process of introducing a new cuisine to a place. Many of the ingredients served in Mono are unfamiliar to diners and, as Chaneton says, when you are paying for something you need to know you are paying for quality. “In most cases people want to know and when they ask about a dish we will bring the vegetable to the table to show what they are eating,” he says. “People are very openminded but this way they can associate the name of the dish with something they have never seen before.”
Motivating the team
Awards and a place on the lists such as Asia’s 50 Best are rarely the main driver in a chef’s ambitions when opening a restaurant, but there’s no doubt they are welcome when they do arrive – especially after opening in such challenging conditions.
“This is an honour for me and it was a genuine surprise. It is really important for the Mono team; these people are are here doing everything they can to make people happy and any award is important because it motivates the team,” he says.
“When you look at the list, you see big names and big restaurants and I am honoured to be surrounded by them.”