Top 5 Celebrity Chefs in Vietnam

Vietnamese cuisine has received a lot of attention over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, this has garnered the attention of some famous faces, a few of which have come along to try it for themselves. Here’s our list of the top five celebrity chefs that have been to Vietnam and made it a part of their career.

Gordon Ramsay

Perhaps better known these days for his fiery temper rather than his cuisine, Ramsay visited Vietnam in 2011 to shoot an episode of Gordon’s Great Escapes. Ramsay was enthralled by the abundance of fresh ingredients that go into Vietnamese cuisine, calling the local market a ‘chef’s dream,’ as well as being slightly perturbed by the broad use of certain ingredients.

Ramsay’s newfound infatuation with Vietnamese cuisine comes as high praise from a chef whose restaurants have been awarded a total of 16 Michelin stars. Following his visit, Ramsay continued to celebrate Vietnamese cuisine by tasking the final five contestants of his TV show MaterChef US to prepare of bowl of hu tieu in 2013.

Anthony Bourdain

It should come as no surprise to see Anthony Bourdain’s name on this list. A strong advocate of Vietnamese cuisine right up until his tragic death in 2018, Bourdain became something of a spokesperson for Vietnamese food in the west, even accompanying former US President Barak Obama to a meal out in Hanoi.

Bourdain’s career as a chef eventually stopped as he took to the television screens instead. Here, Bourdain introduced the world to what was an otherwise unfamiliar, exotic cuisine. Through shows like A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, the TV host shone a light on Vietnam’s rich culinary history. In an interview with Conde Nast Traveller, Bourdain stated, ‘the trip to Vietnam changed my life!’

Bobby Chinn

International celebrity chef Bobby Chinn, born in New Zealand to Egyptian and Chinese parents, has, perhaps, the strongest link to Vietnam – literally putting his name to the country in 2001 with his restaurant: Restaurant Bobby Chinn. After an unpleasant back injury in 1996, Chinn decided to move to Vietnam to learn the art of Vietnamese cuisine under street food vendors.

Chinn eventually took his love for Vietnamese food back to the west, opening up his Vietnamese restaurant House of Ho in London. These days, Chinn’s celebrity status is on the rise as a judge on MBC’s Top Chef Middle East, broadcasted across the Middle East and North Africa.

Christine Ha

Ha’s position as judge on MasterChef Vietnam has made her a popular household name in Vietnam, but her fame goes beyond borders. Her celebrity career actually started as a contestant on season three of MasterChef in the US. Ha was the first-ever blind contestant on the show, winning the coveted title and a $250,000 cash prize. Ha’s cuisine throughout the show reflected many of Vietnam’s traditional dishes.

John Burton-Race

Born in Singapore to a British diplomatic father, John was destined for a globe-trotting career, spending much of his youth traveling with his family. John claims that these formative years have gone on to inspire his culinary style to this day. In 1983 John cut his culinary teeth under renowned chef Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, where he was soon promoted to sous chef. John impressed Raymond so much as sous chef that, when Raymond opened Le Petit Blanc in Oxford, he put John in charge of the restaurant and the kitchen, this is where John was awarded his first Michelin star.

John visited Vietnam in January 2019, stepping aboard President Cruises, Halong Bay’s most glamorous floating hotel, to share his world-class culinary knowledge. Besides the Michelin standard cuisine that he’ll bring with him, we expect that Vietnamese cuisine will leave an inevitable imprint on John.

Michelin Restaurants and Michelin Stars: How it all Works

At President Cruises, we’ve recruited help from celebrity chef John Burton-Race to craft our Michelin standard menu. As a multi-Michelin Star holder with a background in global cuisine, we knew John would be the man for the job.

Being awarded a Michelin Star is the gold standard for restaurants, indicating exceptional, world-class dining. They are so well regarded amongst the industry that Gordon Ramsey reportedly cried when he lost one at his New York restaurant, stating that it was, “like losing a girlfriend.”

But what is a Michelin Star exactly? And how does one receive one?

Stemming from unassuming roots, the Michelin in Michelin Star does in fact come from Michelin, the tire company. It started back in 1900, when the UK-based tire manufacturers launched their first guidebook, encouraging people to take a road trip in France.

This expanded in 1926 when they recruited anonymous reviewers to go out and try different restaurants. To this day Michelin still uses the anonymous reviewer approach, where each reviewer must blend in with the scenery and not make themselves known. Their system has changed a little over the years, however.

As Michelin are somewhat understaffed (one former inspector revealed that, at the time, there were just seven in the whole of the US) there have been a few extra steps added.

First of all, food websites and blogs are combed for the best-reviewed restaurants and added to a pile. A scout will later be sent out to dine in the restaurants that have been dug up and if it’s outstandingly good, a memo will be sent to an inspector. If the inspector finds it remarkable too, the restaurant will likely be visited again, and maybe, if lucky, awarded a star.

While the rules may have changed a little bit since the introduction of the star system in 1931 (though Michelin claim that it is still the same), the established rules are supposed to be as follows:

One star: A good place to stop if you’re passing by, offering cuisine cooked to a consistently high standard.

Two stars: Worth a detour, indicating excellently prepared cuisine, skilfully and carefully crafted dishes or an outstanding quality.

Three stars: A restaurant worthy of a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine, where diners can enjoy a superbly crafted meal.

Though, as suggested before, it is popularly believed that these rules have deviated a little. This is backed, somewhat, by the amount restaurants that currently hold stars. In the GB and Ireland Guide, for example, there are just five restaurants with three stars, 20 restaurants with two stars and 150 with one star – suggesting that there are just 150 restaurants in GB and Ireland worth popping into if you’re passing by.

Michelin fought back against claims that their standards were somewhat pretentious or French-centric in 2016, when they awarded a one-star rating to two Singaporean hawker food stalls, where diners line up to buy meals for just $2.00.

While there are certain criteria that a restaurant must uphold, such as their location, which has to be within the boundaries of a Michelin guide (currently any restaurant in Hanoi would, for example, be off limits) a Michelin star remains the highest point of nobility for any restaurant.

While restaurants in Hanoi or Halong Bay obtaining a Michelin Star might currently be out of the question, Michelin Star standard dining is still well within reach. If you cruise with President Cruises, you’ll see this for yourself.

— Explore a Michelin Star Journey in the World Heritage Site —

5 Reasons to Spend Lunar New Year in Halong Bay

To those who otherwise unaware of what Lunar New Year, or Tet, means to the Vietnamese, imagine it like a really, really long Christmas day. This is a fantastic time of year to be in Vietnam, providing you choose the right place.

The hillside town of Sapa can be overrun with tourists, and the otherwise vibrant capital city of Hanoi becomes sleepy, with little going on. Halong Bay, however, has proven itself to be the ideal place to be during this time of the year. Here are a few reasons why.

1.     Fewer cruise ships in the bay

There’s a good reason why Halong Bay has become one of Vietnam’s must-see destinations. A UNESCO World Heritage Site full of towering limestone karsts, Halong Bay has become a must-visit destination on many people’s travel plans. This does, however, mean that the tourist trade can often get in the way of the superb landscape.

Fortunately, travel around Tet decreases because many cruise liners close down for the holiday and domestic travelers will opt to spend time with their families. That makes Tet an ideal time to visit Halong Bay, with President Cruises being one of the few cruise liners that don’t let Tet get in the way of your holiday.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

2.     Traditional food   

As with celebrations elsewhere in the world, Lunar New Year comes with its own traditional food. While these foods may not all be a world away from what is usually on the menu in Vietnam, they all carry their own significance this time of year.

Some of these foods include steamed square cakes, Vietnamese sausage, sticky rice, boiled chicken, candied fruits, pickled onions, and dried bamboo. While they may not all sound appealing to the western palate, they are all essential eats around Tet. Enjoy a good selection of these dishes when cruising with President Cruises.

3.     Easier to travel

Halong Bay is a little unusual compared to a large portion of the country. Travel around much of northern Vietnam will become increasingly difficult this time of year. Hotels and public transport will usually be either fully booked or closed completely. In Halong, however, travel and accommodation will be organised through your cruise ship, which will usher you from destination to destination, taking all of the concern out of your trip.

4.     Atmospheric weather

Weather in Vietnam can have significant deviations throughout the year and Halong Bay is no exception. From May through to September you’ll find extreme heat and downpours, where the rains can wash away some more adventurous plans. December and January are on the colder side and can stump plans to leave the cruise ship. February, however, walks a delicate tightrope between the two. Highs of up to 21 degrees Celsius lend themselves to outdoor adventure, and if there’s drizzle, President Cruises will provide umbrellas.

5.     Traditional decoration – flowers

Tet will fall around the start of spring, where the smell of flower blossom marks the change in the season. Traditionally people will decorate their homes with flowers such as apricot, gladiolus, yellow daisies, lilies, gerberas, orchids and poinsettias. This creates an attractive and friendly atmosphere throughout the bay, decorating this unique and interesting time of year with plenty of color.

Where to Spend Tet (Lunar New Year) in Northern Vietnam

Known in Vietnamese as ‘Tet,’ Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. You’ll find that big cities like Hanoi are suddenly very quiet, whereas sleepier areas like Sapa are overrun with local tourists. Each destination will have their own unique character around Tet.

The main piece of advice when traveling over Lunar New Year would be to book any travel or hotels well in advance. Most people will be traveling to their families, so public transport gets booked up fast. When it comes to hotels, it may be that some aren’t open, making rooms harder to come by.

Here’s our advice on Tet and how it shapes northern Vietnam’s three most popular destinations: Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.

Sapa  

There are many good reasons why Sapa gets so busy during Tet. This hillside town has plenty going on, and many Vietnamese take advantage of the time they have off to enjoy this mountain destination. But for many, a big part of the appeal of Sapa is its distinctive rice terraces and villages, with a diverse and interesting ethnic makeup.

Depending on when Lunar New Year falls, Sapa will usually be pretty cold. Temperatures reach highs of 13 degrees Celsius and lows of 7, which in the crisp mountain air can feel very chilly.

Staying in Sapa during Lunar New Year will provide many of the normal appealing factors: hikes with stunning views, interesting tribe cultures, charming homestays and awe-inspiring nature. Around this period, though, Sapa livens up a little more and you’ll be able to try some traditional Tet foods, such as chung cake, te cake, pickled onions, and dried bamboo, along with the chance to marvel at the beautiful peach flowers.

If you like the cold and don’t mind the crowds, Sapa is worth considering.

Hanoi

Tet is a chance for residents of Hanoi to visit their families in more rural parts of Vietnam. This means the whole city essentially shuts down, leaving a few major restaurants and a portion of Hanoi’s Old Quarter still open. While this quiet milieu may appeal to some, it does, unfortunately, mean that visitors would be missing Hanoi’s erratic charm.

Due to the lack of people within Hanoi during Tet, one of the top recommended activities would be walking around the capital city’s various lakes. A stroll around West Lake or Hoan Kiem Lake is an activity unlike the conventional Hanoi experience: one of peace and tranquillity in an otherwise hectic city.

Hanoi will usually start to thaw out around Tet, moving away from the colder months of December and January, with temperatures starting to climb to up to 21 degrees Celsius. While this is a suitable temperature for walking, you may experience some light downpour.

If you’d like to see the city at the quietest time of the year, and you don’t mind that many restaurants and street food stalls will be closed, then Hanoi  is a good

Halong Bay   

Halong Bay might be the ideal location in northern Vietnam during Tet. Unlike busy Sapa and quiet Hanoi, Halong Bay remains almost unphased by holiday inconveniences. Cruise-goers aren’t reliant on public transport, so getting to and from destinations is no great difficulty. The same is true of eating and entertainment. Cruise companies like President Cruises won’t allow the holiday chaos to impact on the quality of their cruises.

With a relatively unchanged atmosphere throughout Halong, the bay is a fantastic place to ring in the Lunar New Year. The weather is warm, though not unbearably hot, with highs of 21 degrees Celsius and while it does drizzle, there are no torrential showers. Note that you may want to bring an umbrella. Most importantly, you can travel carefree knowing that the national holiday won’t get in the way of your holiday.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

6 Reasons Why You’ll Love Your Butler

Aboard the President, we’ve trained our expert butlers to a particularly high standard and with an eye for detail.

Welcome to President Cruises!

1. They’ll welcome you with drinks in the Piano Lounge
We know that first impressions are important, which is why your butler will welcome you with a drink in the Piano Lounge. From here, your butler will walk you through your itinerary for the rest of your stay and will make a note of any dietary or allergy requirements. Following this, your butler will show you to your room, explain the luxury features of the room, and answer any queries you may have.

2. They remember your schedule, so you don’t have to
Your personal butler will be there to guide you every step of the way, with one eye on the clock to make sure you know every option available to you. At 14:15 on your first day, your butler will show you to the reception for excursions, and after dinner, they will inform you of your itinerary for the next day. Your butler is trained to the highest possible standard, and remains constantly vigilant of your timetable, so all you have to do is relax and enjoy yourself.

3. They serve your every meal
Armed with an in-depth knowledge of your likes, dislikes, and dietary requirements, your butler will be both a well-oiled machine and a charming personal assistant. From the initial meet, your butler is prepared with an arsenal of drinks and food at the ready for you, from a light breakfast to lunch, and afternoon tea to dinner. All you’ll need to do is inform your butler of your preferred dining time and where you would like to eat, the rest is taken care of.

4. They take care of your luggage

President Cruises

Aboard the President, we make sure that you’ll never have to lift a finger, with your personal butler doing all the heavy lifting for you. Upon arrival, your butler will relieve you of your luggage, and then bring it back to the car following your departure.

5. They offer world-class knowledge
You may believe that your butler is something like a well-accustomed waiter, or a perfectly in-sync planner, but at President Cruises, we make sure that all of our staff are trained to the highest standard. That’s why, when our butler consults you on your drinking choice, you know that their knowledge is coming from experience, skill, and education. You can trust that, when asking your butler for recommendations on dining, entertaining or simply relaxing, you’ll be getting advice you can really trust.

6. They do genuinely care
When you leave the President, don’t be surprised if you feel that you’ve grown somewhat attached to your butler. At President Cruises, our butlers take genuine pleasure in providing you with the finest service, ensuring every element of your trip is the best it can be. Our butlers take great pride in their work and rightly so. They are the individuals that you’ll see the most on your trip, your Sherpa of the cruise, so they – and we – want to make sure you have the best time possible.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise 

Magnificent A La Carte Menus for 2019

While Vietnam has a strong cultural heritage, you can’t deny that there has been influence over the years. Nowhere is this more prominent than in our cuisine. Though all of our food is distinctly Vietnamese, influences like French baguettes and Chinese roast duck are undeniable.

We drafted Michelin Star chef John Burton-Race, the first celebrity chef in the bay, to curate the first Michelin Star standard menu. This sumptuous menu will roll out throughout 2019, depending on which ingredients are fresh, in order to provide the most indulgent cuisine available in Halong Bay.

President Cruises is one of the only cruise ships with an a la carte dinner menu, meaning that you can craft the culinary essence of your Halong Bay experience.

To start things off, we’ll be serving a range of bite-sized delicacies aboard the President, determined by what’s available and fresh in the bay. Expect the finest locally caught ingredients for our amuse-bouche course, such as king prawn and spiced pumpkin soup or a delicious concoction of dressed crab, taramaslalata, squid ink cracker, and watermelon.

All of our starters have been handcrafted to deliver a delicate taste of the finest authentic Vietnamese cuisine, along with poignant western influences. Depending on the season, expect dishes such as carpaccio of venison, brandade of cod, or rock lobster tail with garlic and chilli.

Along with sweeping vistas of stunning limestone karsts, Halong Bay is famous for its fresh fish, a defining point of the bay’s cultural heritage. Aboard President Cruises, we want to do justice to Halong’s fishing reputation. That’s why you’ll find our fish courses to be the freshest available.

We have a range of fish options throughout the year. Highlights include grilled red snapper with sweet red pepper puree and seared kingfish with sweet ginger, garlic, chives and shallot dressing. Other delectable gifts from the sea include filet of seabream and soft-shell crab.

A point of pride aboard the President is our Michelin standard beefsteak, which created a splash in the bay as the finest beefsteak available, with a recipe handcrafted by celebrity chef John Burton Race.

Our own chefs maintain this fantastic standard of cooking throughout the meat section of our 2019 menu. Meat lovers can also tuck into squab pigeon with huckleberry gastric, roast duck breast with corn syrup, roast rack of lamb with white onion cream, or loin of Dutch veal.

To cleanse your palate following our various meat courses, we’ve put together the finest in gentle pre-desserts, to tease you before the real thing. Our selection includes carrot ice cream, peanut butter parfait, cherry and Madagascan vanilla compote and lemon posset with elderflower jelly.

The final course on this luscious menu is our indulgent desserts. Fruit and nut lovers can finish off the meal with carpaccio of spiced pineapple, coconut sabayon, or pistachio cake. For those with richer tastes, there’s chocolate and almond parfait with coffee foam and nougat.

Whatever you choose to eat when you cruise with us, you can be sure that dinner is always something to look forward to aboard President Cruises.

>> Check out the elegant A La Carte Menus

With President Cruises, the Ship is the Destination

 

While voyaging through the limestone karsts of this ancient seascape, it’s important to take some time to relax and allow yourself to drift through the waters. At President Cruises, we believe the best way to enjoy this magnificent World Heritage Site is on the ship, and that’s why we supply the largest amount of on-board entertainment of any vessel in the bay. Here’s five reasons why we believe cruising is the best part of the journey.

  • Marvel at the ever-changing scenery

On a President Cruises journey, each cabin comes with the perfect place to enjoy the tranquil scenery as it passes by: Your own private balcony or terrace. It is hard to imagine the vastness of Halong Bay, but as this ship powers through the waters, you’ll be able to see the dramatic cliffs and micro-rainforests sitting on these small islands. You may even spot some wildlife. The magic is in the changes: Each second you cruise the view is different from the last.

  • Avoid the crowds

It is easy to see why Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s top attractions. It’s a stunning destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws people from all over the world. This can, however, mean that all of those hidden gems that Halong Bay possesses aren’t so hidden anymore. Fortunately, when you step aboard President Cruises, the world of tourism is far removed. As the largest cruise ship to ever venture through Halong Bay’s waters, you’ll be able to marvel at this otherworldly destination while sitting high above the crowds.

  • Time to relax

When it comes to a holiday of pampered luxury, there is no better destination than Halong Bay, and there’s no better way to experience it than with President Cruises. Be it lounging on one of our two expansive sundecks, cocktail in hand, or experiencing one of our lavish spa treatments, well-deserved pampering is never too far away. We’ve harnessed the relaxation power of Kaia spa aboard every trip. This esteemed Vietnamese wellness group offers a world-class range of treatments in the ship’s six-room spa.

  • Make the most of the ship

When you climb aboard President Cruises, the number of places to relax don’t stop at your own private balcony or terrace. While this may be the most secluded way of enjoying the sweeping vistas as they pass by the ship, there are plenty of opportunities to find hidden corners. Why not take a leisurely dip in an on-board Jacuzzi while gliding through the bay? Alternatively, take some time to recline on one of our expansive sundecks and watch the sunset, cocktail in hand.

  • The finest in Vietnam dining

We understand that food is an important part of travel. That’s why we’ve worked with Michelin star chef John Burton-Race to curate the only Michelin star menu in the bay. You can enjoy a succulent beefsteak in our glamorous restaurant or chic piano bar, or try the finest in traditional Vietnamese cuisine instead. Cuisine in Vietnam doesn’t get much better than this.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

 

President Cruises’ Signature Roast Duck

We decided that for the most indulgent on-board dining experience, we would split our menu between lavish western cuisine and innovative Vietnamese dishes. For our delectable menus we drafted Michelin Star Chef John Burton-Race to handcraft the finest in Michelin standard delicacies, including the most succulent beefsteak in the bay.

For our innovative Vietnamese dishes, John worked with our world-class chefs to shape recipes that have been passed down generations into fantastic modern creations. This has made for a delicious and unique result: authentic Vietnamese cuisine with a modern twist.

To highlight just how special this menu is, we want to give you a peek at one of our finest dishes: roast duck breast with corn syrup, confit tart, coriander, and ginger. For this dish, we’ve blended together an East Asian staple – roast duck – with traditional Vietnamese herbs and spices.

You won’t go far in Vietnam without coming across coriander and ginger. Coriander has been used within our cuisine since the beginning. You’ll find it used generously in street food like pho, as well as packed into banh mis throughout the country. Whilst ginger is a popular addition to many meals, it is also considered a cure-all for any ailment, creating a hearty and healthy addition to any meal.

As the centre of our Vietnamese menu, we thought duck would be the most fitting choice for this sumptuous dining experience. Duck has a prominent history throughout Vietnam and East Asia. Dating back all the way to the Ming Dynasty, around 600 years ago, Peking Duck slowly made its way out of Beijing to the rest of East Asia, eventually landing in Saigon before spreading to the rest of the country.

While the dish has royal roots as a delicacy enjoyed amongst emperors and other members of the ruling classes in Beijing, these days, roast duck is a popular takeout item and is prominent on any menu during a special occasion, like weddings, holidays, family gatherings, and death anniversaries.

We feel that, due to its reputation as a food for celebration, roast duck would be the perfect fit as the figurehead of our grand Vietnamese menu. There is no better cause for a celebration than being on a President Cruise.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise 

How is the Weather in Halong Bay in April?

April comes sandwiched between the moderate temperatures of March, which are just escaping the winter chill, and the start of the summer heat in May. Along with an average of eight hours of sunlight a day, which is the highest amount in Halong Bay through the year. All of this makes a decidedly good time to visit Halong Bay, with great opportunities to enjoy the beach, discover the islands, or take in the outdoor activities.

Temperature 

April has a few extra degrees on March, with average temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius. This is an ideal temperature for many, and a good time to enjoy the bay before May, where temperatures climb up to an average of 28 degrees. While highs in April have the ability to reach 28 degrees, the lows only make their way down to 21, making the normal temperature very comfortable and enjoyable.

Rainfall

As the temperatures begin to rise, so does the rainfall, with 57mm over an average of 13 days. That number is still fairly dry compared to the summer, where highs can reach 265mm over an average of 16 days. Like March, however, April can experience those long drizzles, where a small amount of rain stretches for long periods, unlike the sudden but brief showers in the summer months.

Sea temperature

If the idea of long periods of rain deters from sunbathing on Halong Bay’s white sandy beaches, you may find the temperature of the sea in the bay a little more alluring. In April, average sea temperatures reach 29 degrees Celsius, which is the highest in the year, along with December, January, February and March. This makes for a very comfortable and relaxing swimming experience.

Overall, the weather in April makes for one of the most comfortable times of year to come to the bay and while this can mean a higher number of tourists, you will have to consider the pros and cons. Fortunately, if you book a cruise with President Cruises, you’ll be far removed from the hustle and bustle of the tourist industry, with our expansive sundecks and on board activities.

>> Follow the weather in Halong Bay in April