Chef Ricardo Chaneton on the Evolution of His Boundary-breaking Concept Mono
On a spring weekday afternoon, the small dining room at Mono is full of guests enjoying the restaurant’s set menu and singing along to Tracy Chapman’s self-titled 1988 album. The music comes from the vintage-looking turntable located in front of the open kitchen, where part of chef Ricardo Chaneton’s impressive collection of vinyl discs is on display.
“Music has always been a part of my life. When I was very little, I learned to play the cuatro, the national instrument of Venezuela, and my parents were also very passionate about it,” Chaneton tells me. “After I left my country years ago, however, I almost forgot that my father had around 5,000 vinyl storage files and that he’s a melomaniac, but when I opened Mono, he sent me a box of 100 discs as a surprise, which is a big deal for a collector. While the music isn’t related to the concept of the restaurant, it’s related to me and to the memories yhat these songs and the smell of vinyl represent to me.”
At Mono, which opened in 2020 to rave reviews , Chaneton’s personality and background are reflected in every aspect of the concept. At first, the restaurant was labeled as “contemporary French” to reflect the chef ’s experience working in French fine dining kitchens around the world. Soon after, however, partially thanks to critics and diners praising the food as something unique and more focused on Latin America and its unexplored flavours, Mono has evolved to fully embrace its creator’s roots.
“We’re even prouder of what we do now,” says Cheneton, “and it helps us a lot to give more visibility to the concept, the continent’s hospitality and gastronomy. The Michelin guide created the Latin American category just to include our restaurant in the Best Plates section, something that had never happened before in Hong Kong and Macau, which gives us the power to say: yes, we can make this our strength and we can represent a lot of countries in our continent in the best possible way. “The evolution happened very naturally, by listening to people. Mono used to be labelled as contemporary French, because we wanted to position it correctly by seeing the reaction of customers. We still use the same techniques and some French products to showcase modern Latin American cuisine, which is very complex.”
More recently, one year after opening, Mono also earned another achievement, entering the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 listing as the first modern Latin American restaurant to be honoured since the awards’ inauguration in 2013. Ranking at number 44, the restaurant has quickly positioned itself as a point of reference in the region, while Chaneton became the first Venezuelan chef whose restaurant was voted into the list. His career, he tells me, began in Caracas, when a summer job in a local restaurant changed the course of his life. Soon after, studying at the city’s most important culinary school marked the beginning of this long journey into the intricate realm of French fine dining.
In Europe, he worked with chef Quique Dacosta at his eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant in Spain and, from 2010, at the three-Michelin-star Mirazur by Mauro Colagreco, where he eventually became chef de cuisine. When he moved to Hong Kong in 2016, Chaneton took on the role of executive chef of Petrus at the Island Shangri-La, where he spent a few years honing and perfecting his technical mastery. Innovation – and a touch of irreverence – are at the centre of the Mono’s ever-changing menus, which interestingly mix elegant techniques, fresh produce and heritage cooking.
Such an attitude is also recognisable in Mono’s distinctively Latin American service, led by restaurant manager Mauricio Rodriguez, a Mexico City native who engages diners in interactive experiences, such as the making of an unforgettable 21-ingredient tableside mole.
“Gastronomy in Latin America is related to different moments in history – in every period there’s been something interesting to eat. Venezuela, for example, was the first territory conquered by the Spaniards; in our cuisine, we use olives and capers, not because they’re autochthonous to the region but because the Spaniards brought them, and that’s the case for many other territories in the continent,” Chaneton tells me as we discuss the countless references and ingredients related to heritage cooking his menu. “I usually choose an ingredient and theme, and I think about the possibilities, with seasonality in mind and the mission to make French or European ingredients Latin American.” During a meal at Mono, this concept comes through in many creations. In the Racan Pigeon with yuca, chili Ancho and purple corn, for example, the prestigious protein is integrated into a boldly seasoned taco with a rich and earthy sauce. The Carabinero with jicama (Mexican turnip), Rocoto pepper and imperial caviar, on the other hand, plays on the concept of coastal freshness and spiced contrasts with the addition of a luxurious element.
Throughout our conversation, Chaneton often mentions destiny as a major factor contributing to the creation and success of his restaurant. “Mono is essentially the beginning of a dream that I’ve always had. Hong Kong is a beautiful place in which to do it and I don’t regret anything,” he tells me passionately. “It’s true that in our continent we’re very positive, we’re always looking forward to what’s next and never stop.”
For anyone familiar with Latin American culture and its scents, or who’s eager to explore its multifaceted traditions, Mono is a place like no other. From the music and the spoken Spanish in the kitchen, to the personable service and indelible flavours, Chaneton and his team are proving that authenticity and soulfulness are essential components of contemporary fine dining.
(Hero Image: Racan Pigeon, Yuca and Chili Ancho; Upper Right: Carabinero, Jicama, Rocoto and Imperial Caviar)