MOST 14-year-olds would rather spend their summer nights partying instead of turning out loaves of bread in a bakery for the next day.
Philippe Egalon, however, gamely took on this summer job in his hometown of Toulon in southern France, to earn extra money. And before he knew it, he got hooked on cooking.
The director of kitchens at Goodwood Park Hotel, who is trained in French cooking, says: 'There's something satisfying about baking through the night while people are sleeping, knowing that what you make will help someone start their day.'
After graduating from culinary school at the Nice Academy in southern France, he served his mandatory military service on board the naval ship La Jeanne d'Arc, which travelled to major ports of call in Asia including Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
He stayed here for two weeks in 1979, and the 45-year-old says he remembers visiting Chinatown and Little India.
While Asian food did not leave a big impression on his tastebuds then, he was taken by the people's 'simple, uncomplicated way of life'.
This eventually lured him back to work in the region in the early 1990s after having spent time in various hotel restaurants in France and Canada. He joined the Goodwood Park in April and oversees the operations of all six restaurants in the hotel, as well as its deli counter and banqueting team. He also has a hand in introducing new dishes to the restaurants' menus.
Married to a Singaporean and father of two girls aged eight and 10, the French citizen now calls an apartment in Pasir Ris home.
You weren't impressed with Asian food when you first came in the early 1980s. Do you like it now?
It took a while for Asian flavours to grow on me, but I like them now. An example is durian. I didn't mind its smell but I didn't like the complexity of its texture and flavour. But my wife is a fan and I wanted to be able to enjoy eating it with her.
So bit by bit, I grew to appreciate it. Now I can easily polish off three to four pieces of durian. I usually buy them from Geylang.
Another Asian dish that I like is fresh steamed garoupa with soy sauce and coriander. I usually order it at the seafood restaurants in the East Coast but I don't patronise any particular restaurant there.
What is your favourite Asian ingredient?
Chilli. Prior to living here, I couldn't eat spicy food. Now I can't have a meal that isn't spicy. I find that the spice coats my palate, allowing me to taste my food better. But I don't insist on having chilli with all my food.
Is there anything you don't eat?
I may have conquered durian, but I still can't stand the taste of fermented shrimp paste and any dish that uses it, such as rojak. I love shrimps, but when fermented, they produce a very strong, pungent smell that I just can't get used to.
What do you eat at home?
For breakfast, I'm easily satisfied with a bowl of cereal and milk, or yoghurt and some fruit. As for other meals of the day, I eat what my Indonesian domestic helper cooks, which is usually Chinese stir-fry dishes. I eat simply because I'm trying to watch my weight.
How do you keep fit?
I try to practise yoga weekly at home. I picked it up in 2003 and I can easily do a headstand. I like yoga because it can strengthen one's core muscles. I also like working out on elliptical machines. It is a low-impact exercise that is kind on my joints. I'm looking to buy one for my home.
Who has been the greatest culinary influence on you?
Renowned French chef Jacques Maximin, whom I trained under at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, between 1982 and 1983. He was very intense in the kitchen, extremely precise about his cooking and very committed to the food he serves. His dedication to his craft taught me the qualities that make a cook a great chef.
Which dish is your hotel famous for?
This festive season, I recommend the Pot Au Feu (right), which means 'pot of fire' in French. This stew consists of smoked pork shoulder, braised pork belly and root vegetables such as turnips, carrots, pumpkin and parsnips. We smoke the pork shoulder in our kitchen using apple wood.
The meat used in this dish is traditionally beef, but I've substituted it with pork, as it seems to suit local palates better. The dish is available for takeaway but diners can also order in advance to enjoy it for dine-in at the hotel's Gordon Grill, L'Espresso or Coffee Lounge.
What would your last meal be?
Omelette with fresh truffles, pickled mushrooms and wild pig that has been marinated in wine and braised in pig's blood. All these dishes are from a small eatery, whose name I cannot recall, in Comps Sur Artuby, a small village near the French Alps.
It's a typical meal that my father and I would enjoy after a long hike into the mountains to forage for wild mushrooms every fall. The last time I was back there was when I was 18.
From now till Dec 31, Citibank card members enjoy 15 per cent off takeaway Christmas treats at the Goodwood Park Hotel Deli.