As he takes the helm of the Wing Lei Palace restaurant at Wynn Palace, Macao's most revered Cantonese chef, Tam Kwok Fung, talks to 50 Best about his departure from Jade Dragon and the importance of ingredient-based cookery.
Two years after launching Jade Dragon, the celebrated fine dining Cantonese restaurant on the second floor of the Crown Towers Hotel in Macao, Chef Tam Kwok Fung earned a Michelin star. Two years later, a second ensued. Since then, Fung has become one of the world’s leading authorities on hyper-fresh, ingredient-driven Cantonese cuisine, partially bolstered by the restaurant’s debut onto the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017 at No.32.
But in just over a year’s time, things have changed for Fung. Though the chef had initially planned to depart Jade Dragon and start a consulting business, he was snapped up by the luxury hotel Wynn Palace, which offered him the role of executive chef at onsite Cantonese gem, Wing Lei Palace. After officially joining in July, last week Fung debuted his opening menu. So, we caught up with the chef about his cooking philosophy, the importance of premium ingredients in Cantonese cuisine, and of course, new dishes.
I have two mentors: my grandmother and my mother. They were both such good cooks at home. I used to watch them when I was a little kid, and I loved their cooking. They inspired me from a very early age. When I was 16, I started my first job cooking, and because of all the great teachers I had around me in the kitchen, I realised then that I wanted to be a chef.
I define my cuisine as innovative, yet traditional. I do not deviate from the essence of Cantonese cooking, which is preparing pure and fresh dishes, but I do like the challenge of adding my own creative new twist.
In Cantonese cooking, the ingredients must be fresh and in harmony with the season. I am very careful to source the healthiest of ingredients that are natural, so that the flavours are always clean, fresh, and pure. Our seafood, meat and vegetables are meticulously selected from around the world.
Barbecued black Iberian pork with honey
Every single ingredient is very important for each dish. We source the most premium of ingredients, and we spend a great deal of time on sourcing, so that we make sure we receive the absolute best quality. For example, I have recently used Te Mana lamb from New Zealand in my roasted rack of New Zealand lamb with cumin dish. Te Mana lamb has emerged from an unprecedented 10-year programme, specifically bred in the New Zealand high country.
Ingredients that excite me the most are fresh fish, seasonal vegetables, and herbs, like yellow skin garoupa, water bamboo and coriander sprouts.
I change my menu every day. Every single day I come in with new ideas and want to work with new and fresh products to create something different with my team. In terms of the actual menu, we introduce new seasonal dishes every month on top of our standard à la carte menu.
We began introducing our new menu in September, but we do not stop introducing new seasonal dishes. We want to keep things fresh and in keeping with the season. My new menu features a selection of classic Cantonese dishes, such as Roasted Goose with Plum Sauce. I roast Magang goose – one of the four most well-known geese from Guangdong – with lychee wood, which gives the skin a wonderfully crispy texture and juicy, tender meat.
I am a native of Shunde, Guangdong, so I am pleased to share a very special dish from my hometown called braised fish broth with fish maw and vegetables. For this dish, I use wild-caught grouper. To make the broth, I blend the fish with fish maw, luffa (similar to okra), and fungus, and for the final touch, I add mandarin peel for richness.
Crispy sea cucumber stuffed with minced shrimp
Another creation is the crispy sea cucumber stuffed with minced shrimp. After I add the minced shrimp to the Hokkaido sea cucumber, I fry it at a high temperature, along with flat fish, shrimp, and cuttlefish ink.
One of my signature dishes is steamed lobster with 20-year-aged hua diao and egg white. For this dish I source seasonal, fresh lobster, such as French blue lobster, along with 20-year aged hua diao (rice wine), which has a strong aroma. I use it in the sauce on top of the egg white.
Life is a series of lessons, and I find inspiration through learning. I love that I can always continue to learn as I cook. Being a chef is a pretty magical profession. If it can fly, walk, or crawl, or if it grows out of the ground, we can turn it into food. Being a chef is not only about skills and techniques, but also tapping into these original philosophies to turn every single ingredient that enters our hands into edible works of art. And the possibilities are endless.
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