Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Dishing out the royal treatment at Ying

Posted by Kimberly on July 9, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
July 09, 2007, page 2 (1,084 words)

Anyone seeking to congratulate Crown’s Ying restaurant chef on his cooking must surely be somewhat shocked when he steps out of his kitchen.
Despite his rather reluctantly-confessed age of 42, Chef Kwok Fung Tam looks as if he could pass for half that number in years.
He attributes his youthfulness to keeping a keen eye on his health, both in terms of rest and the food he consumes, which he always tries to ensure is at a quality suitable for his own family.
“The philosophy of my cooking is I will try. Everything that comes out of my kitchen is safe and good for my family.
“And that is very important for the professional chef, to always keep in mind and work in this direction.”
“I think every chef or cook should keep this is mind because a lot of chefs or cooks I’ve worked with before think cooking in the kitchen is just their job.
“They finish their job, they go home and that’s it.
“You know you’ll be more careful to make it safe and healthier,” he says.
Despite what’s written about Chef Tam’s methods in the kitchen, it’s not uncommon.
“It’s not only my kitchen that’s doing this, actually it’s very common in Chinese society.
“You know in my column it says this is special but all the Chinese, especially from the South, they all have knowledge of this,” he says.
By this, Chef Tam refers to the Chinese propensity for choosing ingredients and dishes suited to the seasons, something he learnt while growing up.
“In the hot summer time they [the Chinese] will cook more melons, more clear soups, more yin character of the food.
“In the autumn and winter, they will cook more meaty and strong flavoured dishes,” he says.
But despite the common knowledge, his style and method is uniquely his own, amassing knowledge from a variety of restaurants and hotels over the years.
During his secondary education, he began working at a fast food restaurant in Hong Kong, the Chinese sort, selling freshly made snacks.
“I never worked in McDonalds!” he says.
After a two-year stint, he joined another coffee shop, again for two years, gaining some experience with Western style cooking.
“After I finished secondary school, I applied for a job at New World Hotel [now Renaissance] in Kowloon.
“But I didn’t show up because I just realised, I was a Chinese. Why wasn’t I cooking Chinese food?” he says.
He had an opportunity to do just that with his next job, at a traditional Chinese style hotel in Kowloon, again for two years, working from the ground up.
“That was my first full time Chinese cooking job…[doing jobs] from cleaning to making fried rice.
“I learned the very basic things from there,” he says.
He credits his frequent moves from restaurant to restaurant with honing his own style.
“I think that every move was useful. You have a chance to work with different styles of chef and every chef has a different philosophy of cooking,” he says.
For chef Tam, when it comes to his cooking, it’s all about tradition.
“In our menu, we are not going to make anything too fancy. We are doing things in a very traditional way.
“We’re still cooking the way our grandfather did, using similar recipes but very fresh cooking and whenever we buy ingredients we know it’s the best,” he says.
When first contacted by Crown Macau to leave his position at The Peninsula in Hong Kong, it wasn’t the pay that attracted him to the job.
“When I first contacted the management at Crown, they said they were interested in hiring me to come to Macau but also said that I would have unlimited support in my cooking.
“And that interested me more. When I came I realised that was all true.
“They have a lot of big spenders ready to spend, and they need to have some really top quality food,” he says.
It also helped knowing he wouldn’t have to contend with 500-seating capacities either.
“At the last place I worked, I had to look after the 130 seat a-la-carte restaurant plus the 500 seat sit-down dinner.
“But here I just need to focus on a 200-seat restaurant and make sure the food is well done and served to our guests. And that was what I was looking for in my next move.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing banquets or mass-production cooking; I like it.
“It’s a style of cooking and as a Chinese chef we need to have the skill.
“Now is just the right time for me to make a change,” he says.
The changes he’s made over the years has led him, among other achievements, to feeding royalty and winning an international cooking competition.
Yet, for all his accomplishments, Chef Tam is surprisingly grounded.
“Whenever I achieve something, I have to remind myself it’s in the past. that is already done. It’s like an Olympic gold-medal winner.
“In 2005, they won the medal, but it doesn’t mean they have that medal the next year. It’s just something they have achieved in that moment,” he says.
He recounts his experience in Guangzhou, when he arrived for the cooking competition held by the World Chinese Cuisine Association in 2004.
At the time, he was stationed in Bangkok, where he recounts, “In the past eight years before, no Chinese chef had been invited from Thailand to attend the competition.”
Chefs from more than 24 countries across the world were chosen, coming with two or three assistants.
Chef Tam brought only himself.
“I didn’t know it was such a big event. I thought it was a competition only for Asian countries.
“I had two foam boxes with my equipment. I still remember I arrived the day before the competition.
“I took a flight from Bangkok to Guangzhou in the morning and in the evening I had to prepare something in the hotel room.
“It was a big challenge,” he says.
With Crown’s Ying restaurant and its demanding high-class clientèle providing an entirely different challenge for Chef Tam, it may seem like there isn’t much more he could possibly achieve.
But he has one last goal in mind.
“I am looking to run my own restaurant one day. Cooking with a low-key style.
“Cooking commercially is quite different to cooking family-style. Because you’re taking care of different people’s needs and habits.
“But that will be at an almost retired age. It would be nice,” he says.

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