It’s been an eventful year for Chef Vicky Lau as she ushers in the opening of her new patisserie Poem, located just below her flagship restaurant Tate Dining Room and Bar in Hong Kong. Situated in the vibrant district of Sheung Wan on Hollywood Rood where art galleries and dried seafood shops are aplenty, Tate delivers a unique dining experience where Chef Vicky strives to create edible stories that embody her artistic expression and creative intuition.
The recipient of 2015’s Best Female Chef in Asia by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants was recently down in Kuala Lumpur to curate a French-Asian 8-course meal for RHB’s Client Appreciation Night held at the prestigious St. Regis Kuala Lumpur. We catch up with the multi-talented designer turned chef during a high-tea session before she made her cooking debut in Malaysia.
On switching careers from design to culinary
I went to NYU and there was one class that inspired me. It was about doing something good as a designer for society. Most designers go into design thinking that they would create something great. But what they end up selling is commercial products. That class really stuck to me that I wanted to do something creative with a meaning. I was lucky to find a boutique ad agency when I was working in New York that mainly focused on pro-bono and environmental accounts. When I moved back to Hong Kong, it was really hard to find a similar job. I ended up freelancing and picking jobs that didn’t really inspire me to be a designer. With design these days, there’s so much reproduction and technology that the original soul can get lost. I started thinking that craftsmanship is very much under-appreciated these days and I wanted to do something about that. I’ve always loved making things with my own hands, doing ceramics and cooking. Food is still one of the industries where you have to use your own hands. You can express yourself with food as it involves taste, smell and even culture.
On French or Asian technique
Technique-wise, I use a lot more French techniques, but as we live in Asia I use more Asian ingredients especially seafood, meat and vegetables.
On going back to her roots
When I first started out as a chef, because I was more French trained, I used to create French-style dishes. After a while you want to go back to your roots and create dishes that speak more about yourself. So I started exploring more with Chinese ingredients and spices now.
On opening Poem Patisserie this year
In Chinese we consume plenty of sweet soup instead of cakes. Often times sweet soup can be lacking in texture as it’s more liquid, so I translated that into more of a cake form with different layers. I would pair a dark chocolate cake with red date puree or Iron Buddha tea that’s made in a mousse and paired with white chocolate. There’s also a similar dish with coconut and mango.
On the name Poem
The full name of the place is actually Poem Patisserie of Honey and Flour. What I’m trying to say is that the cake itself is like a poem because of the texture. People usually celebrate a cake with someone and it’s like a little poem that you share with someone.
On her favourite food haunts in Hong Kong
For dim sum, I like to frequent Shangri-La and there’s also Tim Ho Wan, a budget Michelin-starred dim sum place. But I usually just go for wanton noodle soup which is a late-night joint for me after I get off from work.
On being a female chef in the kitchen
Plenty of female chefs have come to visit me, some are very motivating, while there are others crying about how painful it is to be a female chef in certain countries. What I want to do more is inspire people. In Hong Kong, there’s a stigma that revolves around finding a kitchen job because you did not study well. I’ve learned that it is important to be adaptable. One of the factors of being successful is to have grit and hang on with your long-term goal in mind. Even for me when I first switched from a designer to a chef, the first year was tough physically because there were days when I couldn’t stand after being on my feet for 12 hours.
On finding new inspiration and ideas
Ideas just come from everywhere. It is not good to just look within the industry because a lot of times you will end up copying someone else’s dish or something that’s trendy. I find inspiration in artwork, poems and I think a lot about culture by reading history books. You shouldn’t just create a dish because you want to, you need to consider if it fits in with the season.