SINGAPORE - Cantonese chef Wu Tak Biu, who heads the kitchen at the renowned Lin Heung Kui, one of the oldest restaurants in Hong Kong, is quite the storyteller.
The 50-year-old executive chef regales Life! with stories behind his various dishes, which he is presenting at Capella Singapore's Chinese restaurant Cassia until Sunday.
One of the dishes is braised yun yeung fried rice ($14 a person), which is fried rice topped with two sauces - a creamy prawn sauce and tomato and chicken sauce.
He says in Cantonese: "People may not see this dish as fine dining, but back when Hong Kong had its economic crisis, it was hearty comfort food for diners."
Even a skewered scallop has a story behind it. The sauteed scallop is skewered with vegetables and ham ($32, portion for two) and is styled to look like a "Chinese emperor's headdress".
His stories extend to his connections with Singapore too. His late father was born here, as his paternal grandfather worked as a coolie for traditional Chinese medicine company Eu Yan Sang.
For his guest stint at Cassia, there are three set menus: lunch ($68++), dinner ($108++) and weekend dim sum brunch ($68++). Selected dishes are available on the a la carte menu.
His techniques are steeped in tradition, and some dishes such as spare ribs with strawberry sauce ($14) are not meant to be seen as fusion dishes.
The chef, who started his career at age 16, says: "The cooking style is still traditional. Think of the dish as something similar to sweet and sour pork. We use strawberries when they are in season.
"We like to use seasonal ingredients in our dishes to add more items to the menu. For example, during winter in Hong Kong, the most popular seasonal item is snake. We use it to make snake soup, which warms up the body."
Wu, who previously worked at popular Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong such as Tsui Hang Village Restaurant and Maxim's Restaurant, has been with Lin Heung Kui since 2000.
The 300-seat restaurant in Sheung Wan is the second outlet of the 100-seat Lin Heung Tea House in Central, Hong Kong. The 86-year-old business is currently run by its third-generation owners.
While not all his signature dishes are available here, diners at the Hong Kong outlets can try his Eight Treasures Duck, which requires a day's advance order as he makes only 20 portions a day.
He says: "You need to debone, braise and stuff the duck, as well as wrap it up to steam for four hours. The whole process takes about eight hours."
There are no plans to expand the business so far, as the chef says that the owners are very particular about opening restaurants overseas.
He says: "Many parties have approached the owners to open, even in Dubai. But they are not interested. If we were to open anywhere, it has to maintain the same standards and traditional cooking style."
Between the two outlets, Wu heads a team of 50 chefs and diners queue for at least half an hour to get seats.
While he laments the lack of young chefs nowadays, the father of three children aged 19 to 28 is already grooming his 26-year-old son, who works with him, to be his successor.
He says of his son: "He still gets scolded if he does something wrong in the kitchen. In fact, he gets double scolding."
Traditional Luxuries Cassia At Capella Singapore
Where: Cassia, Capella Singapore
When: Today and tomorrow, noon to 2.30pm, (set lunch), today to Sunday, 6.30 to 10.30pm (set dinner), 3 to 5pm (weekend dim sum)
Price: $68++ (set lunch and weekend dim sum), $108++ (set dinner)
Info: Call 6591-5045 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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