FOURty Seconds with Tong Chee Hwee

07 Feb 2017
3 min read
FOUR catches up with Hakkasan’s head chef to find out what’s in store for this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations…

What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?

When I was seven my family were very poor. We used to go to the mountain for firewood every day, and we used this wood fire for cooking at home. My grandmother used to cook very delicious food every day and she passed that talent to my mother as well. When I look back at that difficult time for my family I knew that I wanted to be a chef in the future so that I could cook for my mother and grandmother. Many years have passed and although they’re no longer with me anymore, I still feel grateful to them for the success I have achieved.

What, or who, would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

I made my choice to become a chef mainly because my mother and grandmother. I went to China to study authentic Chinese cuisine for a period of time.

Describe your culinary style…

Creating something modern but at the same time authentic, taking as our starting point traditional Chinese (and predominantly Cantonese) cuisine, and bringing it up to date. I think that is my culinary style- modem Chinese/ Cantonese cuisine .

What do you think makes the restaurant, or menu sosuccessful?

I think the chef team in Hakkasan is always trying hard to improve our dishes and menus. I think one big difference between us and other fine Chinese restaurants in London is that we have a very strong beverage team, our cocktails and wines choice is definitely superior. Also we invest a lot to our employee professional training.

What are your most indispensable ingredients?

I think duck is my most indispensable ingredient, because cherry-wood roosted Peking duck is my best creation. This is the best review I received all over the world and it is HKK’s signature dish.

We use Cherry Wood as anotherspecial ingredient. We burn the wood first to get it ready, and then put the cherry wood into the Stone Oven while we roast the duck, so that the special flavour from cherry wood will add a different spice to the duck.

What kind of experience do you aim to give guests when you cook for them?

I am always trying to introduce the authentic Chinese ingredients and add innovative elements into our new designed dishes. I want to give guests a new experience and surprise them with new flavour combinations they haven’t tasted before.

I certainly do hope that every customer at Hakkasan can experience our hospitality and concept. No matter where they are, in UK or other countries, I hope they can enjoy our service and think we provide the best quality Chinese cuisine.

What does entering the year of the rooster mean to you?

Following the chaotic Year of the Monkey, the Year of the Fire Rooster is predicted to bring fresh and exciting challenges requiring practical solutions and good old-fashioned hard work.

This year Hakkasan restaurants around the world are celebrating Chinese New Year with a limited edition menu showcasing celebratory dishes and desserts accompanied by an exclusive cocktail inspired by the Year of the Rooster. The menu begins with the Fortune tale, a prosperity salad to bring joy to guests in the new year.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?

To be a good chef, I would advise my younger self to ‘read more, learn more, think more, ask more and do more’. I believe diligence makes success, nothing is impossible with a willing heart.

What’s next for you/Whats projects do you have lined up?

I feel very proud for Hakkasan being such a success, for the future I hope Hakkasan Group will always be the best quality Chinese cuisine.My chef’s career took flight with I joined the group in 2001 and together we gained our first Michelin-star in 2003 and leading up till now Hakkasan, Yauatcha and HKK which all have a star under our belts. I am thankful and proud of our team and wishing that we could strive forward toward gaining a second star of each.

We are opening lots of restaurants this year including Hakkasan and Sake no Hana in Jakarta and Yauatcha in Houston and Waikiki.

What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

Find out more about Hakkasan here and Chef Tong Chee Hwee