PROFILES | Interview with Michelin Star Chef Akrame Benallal

“I started from nothing,” Chef Akrame Benallal shares as he stares out the window of the lovely private terrace of Atelier Vivanda Manila. The two-Michelin star Algerian-born chef oozes with passion—you can tell from the way his eyes become so intense when he talks about cooking and food. Look further and you can practically see his mind running, already thinking excitedly of the next dish he’s going to prepare.

Together with an Instagrammer friend, I had a chance to do a private interview with Chef Akrame over lunch at the fabulous casual French restaurant in BGC. It’s not every day I get to chat with chefs with Michelin stars, so I consider myself very lucky and privileged to have this enlightening and inspiring conversation with him. Below, Chef Akrame shares his love for cooking, confesses to never visiting Manila before opening a restaurant here, and tells us what he normally eats for breakfast.

Pepe: How’s it like to be a Michelin-star chef?

Chef Akrame: It’s a lot of work. You have to work really hard. Also, when you cook, you make love. This one is the secret to success. And the more hard it is, the more you have to fight. And you have to believe – you can be what you want if you have dreams.

Pepe: Was there anything else that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?

Chef Akrame: I love cars, I love racing, but it’s always been cooking.

Pepe: What made you want to open in Manila?

Chef Akrame: I don’t want to open only one, I want to open many, many restaurants here (laughs). Because here, the expansion of food [industry] is very interesting. The people like to go out, like to eat, like to enjoy, like to drink, so this is really, really nice. Other countries are not like this. Actually, if tomorrow I have to leave France, I would live here. In ten years, Manila will be wow.

Pepe: Why not Hong Kong?

Chef Akrame: It’s not the same. Hong Kong is this big busy city. Here, there’s no stress. I see it in everyone, not only me! Everyone got no stress. You can work but still enjoy. And everyone is always smiling.

Left: cauliflower soup with parmesan, comte, and smoked haddock; right: duck confit
Pepe: What about our local food? What do you think about Filipino cuisine?

Chef Akrame: Ooohhhhh I love halo-halo. I always go to this place in Peninsula to eat this other dish. I forgot the name, it has an egg on it. Really good.

Pepe: Would you consider opening a Filipino restaurant with your take on it?

Chef Akrame: No. I like typical Filipino and typical French.

Pepe: What about establishing an Akrame outlet in the Philippines?

Chef Akrame: Ahhh this one is haute couture, you know? It’s really special. The restaurant there … it’s me. Sensitive cuisine. The people there come for food they could get only there. 

Atelier Vivanda's famous 50-day smoked beef
Pepe: I heard the menu changes every 2 weeks?

Chef Akrame: Yes, it depends on my mood and on the [availability of] ingredients. One time in Paris in June, it was raining, it was cold, so we offered something to give customers warmth. I know this is something they would like, and that’s why I have freedom.

Pepe: Here in Atelier, the food changes too, right?

Chef Akrame: Yes, we offer new appetizers, new entrees, but the old dishes are still there.

Pepe: We’re all curious, what does a 2-Michelin Star chef eat for breakfast?

Chef Akrame: Oh. Well, this morning I just had coffee with milk. And toast with jam and butter – that’s it. I also like fried egg, and fruits. Lots of fruits. Sometimes, all I eat is just one fruit. Because you know, I eat [dinner] very late. I like to eat only after service is finished. Then I have to get to the kitchen early the next day.

NaturalAngus Ribeye with unlimited sides
Pepe: How long does it take you to perfect new recipes introduced here at Atelier?

Chef Akrame: Like this (snaps fingers). 

Pepe: Is there a particular type of food you don’t like?

Chef Akrame: Yes, bad food.

Pepe: What's your most memorable meal?

Chef Akrame: My mom’s house. She makes really good vermicelli soup. The best ever!

Left: Choco Creme Brulee; right: Ile Flottante 
Pepe: Who are chefs who had the most influence on you?

Chef Akrame: Pierre Gagnaire. Because he’s an artist. I was shocked when I was 20 and I worked for him. I said, my God, he’s really really really great.

Pepe: Which are your favorite ingredients?

Chef Akrame: Beans and coffee.

Pepe: What do you think are overrated food trends?

Chef Akrame: You know, you have to work hard for people to want to come back to your restaurant. I don’t believe in food trends—or fashion food, as I call them.

Pepe: I’m a fan of Hell’s Kitchen. Do you ever shout in the kitchen?

Chef Akrame: No, this one is bullshit. This is prehistoric stage. If your boss shouts at your every day, do you think you can do your job? This is just for show. The kitchen is love. How you give love to your staff. Too many chefs are stressed already, so why stress your people? If you get fed with bullshit, you finish with bullshit. You know what I do? I tell my staff, “you see what I did? I want you to make more good than me.”

*The featured dishes are new items on Atelier Vivanda Manila's menu. Visit them at the Forbes Town Center, Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City.

Atelier Vivanda Manila
UA8 Forbes Town Center, Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Budget: PhP2,500 and up

Have you dined in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Met a Michelin chef? How was your experience?

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