Foodie confidential: Weaving Western elements into Cantonese cuisine

Foodie confidential: Weaving Western elements into Cantonese cuisine

Yan Ting at The St Regis Singapore is known for its classic Cantonese cuisine, but that is set to change.

Next month, its new executive Chinese chef Tony Wun Shun Kong will introduce East-meets-West dishes on the a la carte menu.

The 55-year-old chef from Hong Kong says in Mandarin:"Weaving in Western elements allows me to create innovative dishes that are more well-rounded in terms of presentation,aroma and taste."

He will also incorporate Western-style plating when serving Chinese dishes.

"A good dish has to be, first and foremost,visually pleasing," he says.

"Even if a dish tastes very good, poor presentation techniques can dampen diners' impression of it."

He says Western cooking methods, such as baking and grilling, bring out the flavours of some dishes better, compared with Chinese cooking styles of steaming and boiling.

He joined The St Regis Singapore last month and oversees its Chinese banquets as well.

He has introduced new dishes to Yan Ting, such as pan-fried lobster and scallops in teriyaki sauce and double-boiled sea whelk soup with black garlic served in a teapot.

It was making soups and stir-frying vegetables for his family that fired his interest in cooking.

He took over kitchen duties when he was 16 years old.

His mother worked long hours as a helper in a desserts hop, while his father, also a chef, died when he was nine.

Wun, who has an older brother and younger sister, recalls: "Through the process of preparing meals at home, I gradually got interested in cooking and decided to make it my career."

This is his first time working in Singapore. He has worked for more than 35 years in hotels in China.

They include Jade Chinese Restaurant at the InterContinental Shanghai Puxi Hotel and Sui Yuan Chinese Restaurant in DoubleTree by Hilton Huaqiao in Suzhou.

He has also taken up cooking stints at the five-star China Hotel and Garden Hotel, both in Guangzhou.

The father of two daughters, aged 26 and 18, is married to a housewife.

How did you get inspiration for fusion dishes?

I always enjoyed interacting with French chefs in my previous jobs. I would go to their kitchens and observe their cooking techniques.

I would pick up the good aspects and incorporate them into Chinese cuisine.

What is your favourite Cantonese dish and where would you recommend having it in Hong Kong?

It is lightly steamed fish, full of fresh natural flavours. Any stall along Sai Kung Seafood Street and Lei Yue Mun Fishing Village is a safe bet.

What do you usually eat when you return to Hong Kong?

I usually go there at least twice a year, and make it a point to check out new and popular Cantonese restaurants. There is a craze of stir-fried garlic crabs there now.

What do you think is the hardest Cantonese dish to cook?

It a traditional dish which has meat or seafood stir-fried with fresh milk and egg white.

One needs to have precise control of the fire to achieve its semi-solid consistency. If you over fry it, the dish becomes hard, and under cooking it will result in a liquid mess.

What are your favourite local foods?

I had visited Singapore three times on vacation.

My must-tries here are the chilli and pepper crabs at Red House, Jumbo and No Signboard Seafood restaurants at East Coast Parkway.

I also like bak kut teh at Song Fa Bak Kut Teh near Clarke Quay.

Its soup has a richer herbal flavour compared with those in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Do you like to cook at home?

Yes, I like to test out ideas for new dishes whenever I come across new ingredients while grocery shopping.

I see them as experimental sessions before I serve the dishes at a restaurant.

I ask my family and friends for their opinions on the dishes.

What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy playing tennis. It has been 20 years since I picked it up. I play it at least twice a week on my days off.

I play at the country club and look online for people to play with.If you could pick someone to have a meal with, who would you choose?

Of course, I would pick my wife. We would have a feast with her favourite dishes, such as boiled chicken, which I usually prepare at home.

WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

Chinese New Year delicacies, such as nian gao (sweet sticky cake), radish cake and a fried pastry stuffed with red bean paste.

These bring back fond childhood memories of when life was carefree. As a kid, all I did was play and eat.


This article was first published on January 4, 2015.
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