It’s four in the morning in Shanghai, and already David Jean Marteau is sitting behind his desk, reviewing the menu for the banquet he is about to prepare for 500 at Parkyard Hotel, where he is corporate executive chef.
“It’s all part of the day’s work, nothing really unusual,” says the chef who moved to China in 2007 after working for seven years in Montreal as the executive chef at Wienstein and Gavino’s Pasta Bar Factory, a large-volume restaurant with more than 500 seats and up to 7,000 à la carte meals served weekly.
What is more unusual, perhaps, is the low turnover of workers in his award-winning kitchen. A Canadian citizen who was born and raised in a small town in Normandy, France, Marteau typically oversees a staff of more than 200 people whose average age is 23.
While just 43, the married father of two boys often feels like Methuselah in comparison to his staff, an experienced patriarch dutifully dispensing wisdom to his younger charges.
“I believe that if we don’t share our knowledge as professional chefs, then it’s a waste of what we have learned,” says Marteau, who started as an apprentice in France, training since the age of 16 under a series of mentors in the art of cooking. “One of the reasons I came to China was so I can teach the Chinese new ideas, new ways of doing things. I am not just a chef. I create food. I innovate. I come up with different concepts. By doing this I keep the interest of the young people who work with me.”
Author of Creative Cooking for the Global Kitchen, a cookbook inspired by his experience working as a chef in multicultural Canada, Marteau encourages his young chefs to enter contests as a way of honing their cooking and presentation skills.
“I care about their careers,” he says.“Last year, my team brought home seven medals out of a group of 12 contestants in an International Culinary Arts competition organized by the World Association of Chefs Societies in Shanghai.
“It’s why they stay with me. They know they are learning something.”