Hubert Burda Media

GastroMonth gala chefs: Who are they?

We speak to VEA’s Vicky Cheng, Mizumi’s Min Kim, and Golden Flower’s Liu Guo Zhu ahead of their participation in the Circle of Excellence dinner and awards ceremony.

The GastroMonth Circle of Excellence awards ceremony on Nov 4 is set to unveil Singapore’s innovative and bold chef, innovative and bold restaurateur, and the best-loved restaurant team, restaurant manager, bartender, sommelier and street food vendor. And what makes the evening even better is a seven-course gala dinner prepared by the innovative and bold chef award winner and six acclaimed chefs based in Singapore or from the region — Vicky Cheng from VEA in Hong Kong, Min Kim from Mizumi at Wynn Palace Cotai Macau, Liu Guo Zhu from Wynn Macau, Mok Kit Keung from Shang Palace at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, Cheek by Jowl‘s Rishi Naleendra and Meta‘s Sun Kim. The former three will zip into town to present Australian Wagyu beef charsiew with white eel, snap peas, X.O. sauce (by Chef Cheng), Hokkaido monkfish liver with sea urchin paired with sake gel (by Chef Kim), and matsutake mushroom seafood soup (by Chef Liu).

We chat with the visitors from abroad on who they are and how they run their kitchens.

Vicky Cheng
Executive Chef of VEA Restaurant in Hong Kong

  • How are you preparing for GastroMonth gala dinner?

It’s an original recipe using a classic idea. Traditionally charsiew is made from pork, but literally it just translates to anything skewered and roasted or grilled, so we’re taking Wagyu beef instead. It’s similar to charsiew but cooked in a French way. Charsiew is a Hong Kong classic and I like to highlight what Hong Kong has, and it’s a variation of what people perceive to be Chinese cuisine but interpreted in a different way.

  • What are you looking forward to on this trip to Singapore?

Chicken rice, laksa and durian — those are the three things I always look forward to when I go to Singapore. And I’m looking forward to cooking with all these talented chefs and I hope to be able to have a drink with them afterwards.

  • How would you describe your style of cooking?

I can’t really describe my food in any other words but “Chinese meets French,” just because it’s what we believe in and it’s the starting point for every single dish that gets created in VEA — it could be Chinese techniques, a classic Chinese dish reinterpreted, or ingredients common in Chinese cuisine, such as fried dough, sea cucumber or clams or shrimp specific to Hong Kong. Sometimes we create a dish that’s so classical French, and we add a little component that’s Chinese and all of a sudden it becomes an element of surprise. 

  • What’s the most challenging aspect of your cuisine?

Mastering the classics, that’s really one of the hardest tasks. I’m a true believer in learning the classics before trying to recreate or invent your own. 

  • Describe the toughest classic you’ve had to learn.

One of them is the Chinese fried dough — youtiao or yauhjagwai. In Hong Kong, outside every congee shop you always find a box with a lamp keeping the fried dough warm, and that fried dough is essential to congee: No matter how good a bowl of congee is, it’s the same texture throughout, so the crunchiness, chewiness and greasiness of fried dough is meant to undo that and give texture. When my restaurant was still under renovation, I would go to a local congee shop and learn how to make fried dough from the sifu (master) starting at 4 a.m. for three weeks. The chef  was willing to share his knowledge with me, and now we don’t do exactly the same thing but we had to get to 90–95 percent of what he taught me. It may seem that fried dough is just fried bread, but in it there’s a lot of skill — folding techniques, temperature, humidity, frying temperature, where and how to store it, so it’s fascinating. After those three weeks it wasn’t that I had mastered it, but I had the knowledge and I went back to my restaurant to make and fry dough sticks over and over. Believe me, my staff ate fried dough for almost two months.

  • What’s one pet peeve you can’t tolerate in the kitchen?

Being disorganised. We’re an open kitchen and I’m very particular — for everything that is stored, all the labels need to face the same direction, the tape needs to be cut the same way and it can never be ripped, the handwriting needs to be neat, the pens and markers can only be black. All these things add up to a restaurant that shows who and what we are, how we work, how we treat the ingredients and how we treat people.

  • What’s an ingredient or tool you can’t do without?

There are four things that are always on me when I work. Other than pens and markers, there are two tweezers I always have to have — one is straight and the other is offset — a  pair of chopsticks, and a slightly oversized spoon. I never start a service without these, and as long as I have these, in any emergency I’m able to finish the task without moving away from my spot. 

  • Who’s your biggest inspiration?

Other than all of my mentors I used to work with, I’ve always looked up to Massimo Bottura. There are chefs whom I respect because we share the same philosophy, and I really believe in sustainability, reducing wastage and using every bit of the animal or vegetable. We peel a piece of asparagus and we select things to be a particular shape as needed, but this creates a lot of waste and we end up with trimmings that many would throw right into the garbage, which I don’t believe in. Turn it into a powder or purée — that’s why we have many different forms of the same ingredient in VEA. Massimo is a true believer in this idea and he also believes in speaking loudly in promoting it, and I hope one day I can do the same for Hong Kong. 

  • What do you cook for yourself on your day off?

I actually cook almost every day, believe it or not. My wife loves steak so I make a lot of that, I love seafood because I live just above a wet market, so every day before I go to work I shop at the market and then make a quick lunch, and I come back from work and make dinner. The meals are more simple (than VEA’s), for sure, but the flavour varies. Sometimes I like Thai influences, because my wife is half-Thai, sometimes it’s Chinese or even a simple fried rice.

  • What’s comfort food for you?

Pho. I like noodles in general, and soupy noodles in particular. I love pasta but somehow that doesn’t scream comfort food to me.

  • What about guilty pleasure food?

Korean instant noodles, I eat that a lot. Shin Ramyeon, I love that, when there’s nothing at home, or sometimes I just wanna eat it. It has to be chewy, so you have to undercook it a little. I generally add an egg to it, and then I cook the egg so that it just thickens the soup, and the noodles catch bits of egg in them.

SEE ALSO: 3 GASTROMONTH HIGHLIGHTS TO GO FOR

Min Kim
Executive Chef of Mizumi, Sushi Mizumi, and Hanami at Wynn Palace Cotai Macau

  • How are you preparing for the GastroMonth gala dinner?

I have been constantly thinking and evolving my dish with the new ideas that comes in my head every hour. One of the top priority and the main focus for my dish would be sourcing the best seasonal ingredients to enhance the final outcome, so I’m spending a lot of time talking to my Japanese seafood supplier to secure the top produce and considering what is the best way to prepare the ingredients without compromising its natural integrity.

  • What and when were you last in town for, and what are you looking forward to on this return trip?

I was actually in Singapore about a month ago to catch up with my friends living in Singapore. We all work in the same industry and it is always inspiring catching up with them and seeing what they are doing in their own specialised cuisine.  I always get a lot of ideas and inspiration from my chef friends and other culinary figures. Singapore is one of the greatest food meccas in the world, and every time I visit I always walk away with so much knowledge and ideas. And I’m also looking forward to learn and grow as a chef even more from this exciting trip to Singapore.

  • How would you describe your style of cooking?

My style of cooking is very simple. I get a lot of inspiration from seasonal ingredients. I always believe that the cooking actually starts even before you turn on the stove in your kitchen. It starts from sourcing and obtaining the best and freshest ingredients available that’s suitable for your cooking. I believe that the job of a chef is merely to present the ingredients on to a plate with his own technique and style but without compromising its own natural expression.

  • What’s one ingredient or tool you can’t do without?

My knife sets. I have my own set of knives I have to have in order to prep and cook. It’s strange — every time when I try to use someone else’s knife, I tend to cut myself, maybe because I’m not used to that knife.

  • Who is your biggest cooking inspiration?

One of them would be my dad. He has continuously taught me so much insight ever since I first started my career at his restaurant. Even till now he still inspires me to be a better chef. And not forgetting all the other great chefs out there doing amazing cuisine with an innovative approach, who inspire me to push myself even further.

  • What do you consider comfort food, and could you tell us what your guilty pleasure food is?

Comfort food is something that can remind you of your fondest memories, I think. What works for me is just plain Japanese steamed rice with miso soup and Japanese traditional pickles. It’s something that my parents often made for me when I was a kid while they were busy in their restaurant. It always brings me back to those days when I ate that type of meal anywhere.

I’m not sure if there’s anything that I would call guilty pleasure food. I don’t drink or smoke and I don’t take much sweets either. I try to stay away from anything that could harm my palate and the sense of taste in food. If anything, maybe a cup of coffee…?

SEE ALSO: ROBERT PARKER WINE ADVOCATE TO LAUNCH GASTROMONTH

Master Liu Guo Zhu
Executive Chef of Chinese culinary operations at Wynn Macau

  • What are your thoughts on being one of the chefs curating the GastroMonth gala dinner, and how are you preparing for it?

I am so glad to join the event in Singapore this time. I’ve been to Singapore many times for exchange and seminars during the 1990s, and I could always feel the vibrant and exuberant atmosphere here. And in this event, I will be presenting the classic imperial Tan cuisine, showcasing and reviving the culinary traditions of China with guests.

  • What’s the most challenging aspect of your cuisine?

I think the most important thing is to master the essence of cuisine, and strive to incarnate its original style and tradition. As a chef nowadays, we need to keep learning and stay up-to-date with the latest trends, observe and extract the best practices from others. Tan cuisine is a school of cooking that can be enjoyed by both northern and southern Chinese diners, because the flavors are very balanced and the cuisine protects the original flavors of our ingredients. But it is also a cuisine that is very exclusive and hard to truly understand because of the labor-intensive cooking methods involved. Also, few chefs have worked in a kitchen with a chef from the original Tan household.

  • What’s one item you can’t do without?

Ingredients. Some ingredients can only be found in certain areas, for example, we need a specific type of chicken to prepare the signature soup of Tan cuisine, and the fowl’s freshness matters too.

  • What do you cook for yourself on your day off?

When I am on holiday, I enjoy having homemade food prepared by my family. The dishes are simple and causal, yet fresh and full of love.

  • What do you consider comfort food , and could you tell us what your guilty pleasure food is?

My hometown is Beijing and I like its traditional street food, which keeps the wisdom of our ancestors and the original culture and style of the city.

 

October 30–November 26
gastromonth.com