Chef ArChan started her journey at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong where she learnt the basics of the culinary arts. Now, almost 15 years later and equipped with new knowledge and experiences, she joins Chef Jayson Tang of One MICHELIN-Starred Man Ho Chinese Restaurant for two evening doses of good fortune with a culinary exploration of Cantonese cuisine. As we look towards part two of this collaboration at Ho Lee Fook on 18 October, we sit down to discuss their shared love and culinary passion for Cantonese flavours and what brought them together.
Could you share a little bit about how you started your journey to becoming a chef?
Chef ArChan (A): I never thought of becoming a chef. My only cooking encounter was watching my grandmother in the kitchen preparing meals for the family, each bursting with flavour and tradition. I got curious and picked up Catering as an elective when I was studying at Hong Kong University. I went on to do my internship at JW Marriott when my lecturer told me to further my culinary arts in Australia should I wish to take this career seriously. So I went and the rest is history!
Chef Jayson (J): My family owned a dai pai dong and I grew up helping them. I remember washing dishes and waitressing at the young age of 10; holding on to four cups of hot milk tea in one hand was no feat to me! So it all came naturally and I told my parents I wanted to cook at the age of 15 and started helping them prepare dinner ingredients. This helped me when I went on to study at the Chinese Culinary Institute and all my instructors were impressed that I already knew how to fillet the fish and butcher the meat!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be either a psychologist or a social worker. I love reading psychology-related books and how to look at things from different perspectives.
J: I always knew that I wanted to become a chef cooking Cantonese cuisine. I vividly remember how my father was looking sharp, dressed in long-sleeved shirt and trousers even on hot days, and how extremely particular he was with all the produce delivered to the stall daily. It inspired me and I became who I am because of that.
What is your favourite thing about being a chef?
A: Able to cook for others, and it is my way of expressing my love and care to others.
J: It gives me great satisfaction seeing my guests enjoying my food.
As a young chef, what are the challenges you face currently?
A: Good quality produce or ingredients that taste like how it is meant to be or before, say 20 years ago when Cantonese cuisine was unknown. One of my biggest challenges is consistently upholding the traditions and improving the dishes.
J: I became an executive chef at the age of 29, which is relatively young in Cantonese restaurants. I had to then teach and reteach my team who might had more years of experience than me. It is as simple as understanding and knowing if the produce is good or bad quality.
Tell us something that people do not know about Cantonese Cuisine.
A: Cantonese cuisine focuses on the produce and we work around elevating the dish, enhancing the flavour and at the same time harmonising all these fresh produce and ingredients.
J: Most people thought Cantonese cuisine was just char siu and sweet & sour pork. There is more to that, it is about how we can bring out the freshness of the produce, and what ingredients we use so as not to overpower the produce.
How did this collaboration come about?
A: I have always wanted to work with Chef Jayson, and I admire him for running Man Ho Cantonese Restaurant so successfully at such a young age and putting Cantonese cuisine on the world stage.
J: I really appreciate her persistence in her work. Her curiosity in wanting to learn more about our culture and history. We were introduced and that was how it all began.
What are you excited about on the menu? What are the highlights?
A: Every dish to be honest. I am very excited to be able to create and cook something new with Chef Jayson. But if I really had to choose, it would be roasted pork rolled with chicken liver, Chinese pig’s trotter sausage, crispy suckling pig stuffed with glutinous rice, and all the dim sum, as these dishes are true to Cantonese cuisine.
J: I enjoyed working with Chef ArChan to create this menu so I could not decide on a single dish. It is definitely the whole menu and how the dishes flow from one to another. You just have to try it to understand it.
Anything else you like to share?
A: I am just super excited – wishing that I do not have to cook, and enjoy these dishes as a guest!
Join us at Ho Lee Fook on 18 October for part two of “A Duology of Cantonese Traditions”. Reserve here.
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