INTERVIEW: Executive Chef Joey of Singapore’s Ce La Vi speaks to us about his hardcore roots

From Hardcore Kid To Executive Chef
INTERVIEW | Joey Sergentakis

Executive Chef at Ce La Vi (Singapore)

“What will we do with this voice we’ve been given?
Spread freedom
What will we do to ignite the change?
Infect the masses
What will we do with our experience untold?
Spread wisdom
Now is the time to infiltrate…

This is one of our most proudest interviews.

We take a lot of pride in interviewing someone from our underground community who has moved onto greater things and achievements in their life, but has never forgotten the roots of where they came from and what the lessons they’ve learned. Today’s interview is an exact case of one of our own getting off the streets and moving into a position of power. We present to you Ce La Vi‘s Executive Chef extraordinaire, Joey Sergentakis. While World Gourmet Summit (pictured below) may have bestowed upon our incredible friend the Asian Cuisine Chef of the Year award, and he may have prepared food for President Obama, we know him better as a crowd climbing, microphone screaming, pit inducing fiend.

Over the course of a few days we pieced together an interview that we find highly inspiring and we hope you do too.

If you’re at a hardcore show in Singapore – make sure you look for him and say what’s up!

That’s him crawling over heads at a BANE show in Hong Kong!

Hey Joey! Congrats on all the amazing accolades you’ve been receiving for your award winning cooking! Can you tell us how a hardcore kid from New Jersey gets into the culinary arts in the first place?!
Pretty much everyone in my family was in F&B and at a very young age I got into it as well. Actually as a teen my dream was to play music in a hardcore band (that dream is still there) but I also loved food so I enrolled in culinary school. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not but once I started I got hooked on it.

So what brought you out of Jersey to Hong Kong? How did that happen?
9 years ago I flew to Switzerland – my plan was to work free for three months in a three Michelin Star restaurant then I would head back to the States. Before returning back to America Chef Gray Kunz called me and asked me if I could help him open a restaurant and hotel in Hong Kong so I flew out there and we opened the Upper House Hotel and Cafe Gray Deluxe. Never imagined a planned three month trip would turn into a 10 year experience.

Us hanging with Chef Joey at Cafe Gray in Hong Kong many years ago. 

Isn’t that nuts though? How did Chef Gray Kunz even know you? And what was it about you that made him trust that you were the guy to do this? For those who don’t know Cafe Gray is one of the BEST restaurants in Hong Kong – and in a city with thousands of incredible restaurants, that is quite the accolade.
Yes it is! I am very proud of what we did, it was an incredible experience! He knew me because my cousin, who is also a chef and used to work for him. He knew I worked for my cousin for a bit and also worked at Restaurant Daniel in NYC so I was coming from very reputable establishments.

And then how did you break it to your family that you were going to pack up and move to the other side of the world? What was their reaction?
Always a difficult conversation… my intention was never to pack up and head to the other side of the world. It was one good opportunity after another, my intention was always to head back to America which made the conversations much easier…just another year, just another year…

Joey killing it with Burden of Truth

But you’ve been out over here 10 years now – you must be so accustomed to life in Asia could you actually see yourself moving back? Not to mention how batshit crazy the US is right now under President Dumbfuck.
I have been here so long that Asia is a second home to me and I’m really happy out here. So many amazing memories. I met my wife here and we have two children. I love it here but at the same time we do want to eventually go back home but with President Dumbfuck in charge we are in no immediate rush!

So tell us your journey into hardcore while you were in the States. What got you into the music? Any shows from back then that you remember fondly that you want to share with us?
I have an older brother who got me into hardcore and punk when I was 13 years old, we started off listening to bands like Sick Of It All, Earth Crisis, Strife, NOFX…it all pretty much started off with a show that my brother went to at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey – Rancid and H20 – that’s pretty much what started it all. Once we started listening to them we fully submerged into the hardcore and punk scene. I got all my friends into it, my brother was in bands, I was in bands and every week were at shows.

Joey coming full circle in Hong Kong many years back at Sick of it All’s first ever show in the city. That’s him in the Converge shirt, again, crawling on some heads. 

What was it about that heavier hardcore sound of the 90’s that really got you into the scene? Was it the music? The lyrical content? The ethics behind it all?
All of the above! It wasn’t just the heavy stuff though, I was just as excited to see bands like Every Time I Die and Candiria as I was about seeing bands like Piebald or Stretch Armstrong…90’s music was just the best! So many amazing bands, so many amazing shows. The scene was really alive back then! I believe it still is just harder for me to be part of like I used to. I am very lucky for experiencing it when I did though. Not only was that some of the best experiences of my life but it shaped me to be who I am today, as corny and cliche as it sounds…Hardcore and punk rock was always about being open minded about the all cultures, religions and having a positive outlook on life. Not all bands had the same message throughout the community but everyone respected each other’s views unless it was racism, fuck that…there was never a place for that type of shit…

I found myself influenced by bands like Sick of it all, CIV, Ensign & H2O. Not only were they fucking amazing but they had a positive message that I personally related to. For people who did not understand hardcore it was a bunch of crazy people with tattoos screaming into a microphone about drugs and sex and to be honest, many bands I listened to like Murphy’s Law and NoFX that WAS their message and I fucking love them. Again, that was the beauty of the scene, you didn’t have to be straight edge to listen to straight edge music, you didn’t have to have a mohawk to be punk…the message I learned from hardcore at a very young age was a big part of my life and never changed.

But to give credit, these values came from my family of course and then were went on to music.

Do you find any of the things you picked up from hardcore applies to what you’re doing now?
Yes, in many ways I feel music in general is similar to cooking. As a musician you have to be open minded and embrace all genres. The same applies for cooking. For example, I come from a French culinary background, as many chefs are. I went to culinary school where we learned classic French cooking techniques, then I worked for a some of the best French Chefs in the world Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse and Benoit Violier…I could continue down that path and I am sure I would have been successful (maybe more than I am now) but that was not what I wanted, I wanted to learn more about different flavors, cooking techniques, spices, ingredients so that my culinary repertoire would be something special and more versatile which is where I am today.

I believe as a musician playing hardcore music it would be boring if all your inspiration wold come from hardcore. Some of the best artists have brought in influences of jazz, classical rock, reggae, hip hop, etc…

Demo cover from Joey’s band Burden of Truth

What were some of the bands you were playing in at the time?
I was in a band called Burden of Truth then Lionel Crush…Burden of Truth I was the singer…we sounded like a mix between Shai Hulud, Ensign, Buried Alive. Lionel Crush was very heavy (I played bass) and we sounded a bit like Coalesce, Cave In, Converge, Martyr AD…both bands were amazing. We were very young but we made some fantastic music, if it wasn’t for my cooking career I think we could have gone very far.

Oh shit! So you were definitely knee deep in that 90’s metallic hardcore sound! Sick! That’s interesting to reflect on – if it wasn’t for your cooking career things may have gotten somewhere with those bands?
Music and cooking are my two passions in life! I definitely do not have any regrets on the path I have chosen, yet being a chef means tons of sacrifice. I never realized what I was getting into till I started working at Restaurant Daniel under Daniel Boulud in NYC. This was one of the best restaurants in the country and very labor intensive. It was an extremely stressful environment, long days, constantly under pressure yet surprisingly this is when I really fell in love with cooking! I love the adrenaline that I got every service, I loved the food that we were doing, and I knew at this restaurant I was learning the craft, this was very important. As a chef the most rewarding thing that you can do is make something delicious then serve it to someone and watch their reaction. The food we were doing was always delicious and I was really learning how to cook.

Joey was kind enough to send us a track by Burden of Truth entitled Boiled to the Brink. HOW SICK IS THIS SONG?!!?!? He’s on vocals!!! 

At the same time I was based in NYC so every day I would hear about another great hardcore show happening and I knew I would miss it! I had to stop playing music, stop going to shows, stop hanging out with my friends and family, no more holidays…it was a choice I had to make. I couldn’t do both in this profession and I am happy I did this…I have been given the chance to travel the world, meet people with different cultures and religions so I learned a lot from this. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for this experience.

Yeah totally man! There were a bunch of shows you missed in Hong Kong as well but we all knew that you were looking after your priorities and thus making the sacrifices you needed to. While in Hong Kong what were some of your favorite eateries?
I am a big fan of Samsen, a small Thai restaurant in Wanchai. A good friend of mine Adam is the chef there, he’s really good. I met him while doing a stage at Nham in Thailand. As for fine dining – my favorite place is VEA, my buddy Vicky is killing it right now.

“I will always miss swinging a guitar around and screaming into a microphone but now I throw sauté pans and scream out tickets…”

And tell us about the transition to Singapore?
My plan was actually yo head back to America. At this point I was 7 years away from home. I went from NYC to Switzerland, to France, to HK, back to Switzerland, then back to HK. I had a wife and two children and felt like at this point of my career I was ready to come back home and open my own place. About two months before my planned trip to head to the States I got the offer at Ce La Vi, I flew out to Singapore and ended up taking the job. I felt it was the perfect opportunity for me. After spending so much time in Asia my cuisine has naturally gravitated towards Asian food. With that being said I come from a European cuisine background so the position of Exec Chef of Ce La Vi, a modern Asian restaurant was a perfect role at an incredible location. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

You know there’s some competition between Hong Kong and Singapore right? Hahaha
Haha yeah but I don’t get involved in that, I am a mutual party! I guess it’s like NYC and Boston, didn’t you spend time in Boston? (Fuck the Redsox!) hahaha…

Joey cooking for President Obama.

Not Boston – I went to UMASS Amherst…
I love Hong Kong and I love Singapore but they are so different in many ways! Both inspiring in many ways. The local cuisine in both countries are very interesting for a chef like me. In Singapore you have Paranakan, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian and in Hong Kong you have incredible Chinese cuisine which is extremely diverse. I am just grateful that I have been lucky enough to experience living in both countries.

For those involved in hardcore and punk who might want to head down a similar path, what is some advice you’d give them?
It’s important that when someone makes a decision like this is that they realize there is no right or wrong direction, it’s what you do when you make this choice. Regardless of the decision you make you have to give it 1000%, this goes in any field. At the end of the day I will always miss swinging a guitar around and screaming into a microphone but now I throw sauté pans and scream out tickets…

ASC Icons Cookbook Calendar 2017 is an underground Asian music news website created for the sole purpose of supporting our own world. We support all bands and genres HOWEVER we do not support nor have any sympathy for homophobic, racist, sexist rhetoric in lyrical content or band material. UNITE ASIA!