A passenger once told us the wonders of Halong Bay were so overwhelming that they consumed, for as long as we traveled over these waters, concerns about anything else: "My sleeping arrangements, my food - none of it really mattered next to what I was seeing out here."
We understand that sentiment, but not to worry. We've got you covered at bedtime with the best berths on Halong Bay, and Chef Marcel Issak is going to make sure you eat well. While the captain steers the Emeraude, it's Marcel who stands at the helm in our kitchen. He's been writing our menus, and training our cooks since 2004, ensuring that the food our passengers consume is worthy of the spectacles outside our windows.
So who is Marcel?
The 52-year-old executive chef of the Emeraude and Apple Tree Group is one of the most renowned foreign chefs currently working in Vietnam. Over a long career on five continents, Marcel has become a zealous explorer of international cuisines.
Marcel first became interested in the culinary arts in his mother’s kitchen in his native Lucerne, where his love of food later led him to an apprenticeship with a French Master Chef at the Union Hotel. After earning his stripes in Switzerland, Marcel embarked on an international career with premier hotels in places as far-flung as Shanghai, New Delhi, Guam, Sydney, Chicago and Caracas.
“Early in my job I realized there were drastic culture changes and completely different environments only a few hours away,” he says. “My interest has always been in travel, and learning about cultures through food. I wanted to push the limits, to see more, to explore more.”
In 1994, Marcel’s career brought him briefly to Vietnam, where he met the future general manager of the Emeraude, Kurt Walter, and co-authored a book, The Food of Vietnam. “I had an excellent time in Ho Chi Minh City,” he recalls, “But I kept thinking my life was not fulfilled yet.”
Marcel’s wanderlust led him to India, where he sidelined as a host for a TV cooking show, and later spent years familiarizing himself with the cuisine of Indonesia, Guam and Singapore before returning to China, where one day he received a call from an old friend.
“Kurt called and said, ‘Wanna come down here?’ I was excited. I had never been to Hanoi. First, I convinced my wife; then, I packed my bags.”
Since his arrival, Marcel has elevated the Emeraude’s menu to levels on par with his five-star background in the food and beverage industry.
The secret ingredient, Marcel says, is great staff. “The people make a heck of a lot of difference,” he says. “Our staff has a lot of pride in doing a good job. You have to respect your staff; once you do, you can keep them forever.”
For Marcel, the past years spent in Vietnam have been anything but boring. Creating new menus and refining the Emeraude’s cuisine is one of the challenges he welcomes.
“People here are young, the country is alive and exciting,” he says. “We will keep working on our food, asking how we can challenge ourselves again, how we can raise our ambitions.”