Executive chef at Megan’s Kitchen
Hong Kong-born Au-yeung Kwok-man’s love of cooking started when he was young. Experimenting with different omelette fillings piqued his interest in a culinary career. He worked in hotels and restaurants for 20 years, racking up an impressive range of Chinese and Western culinary experiences. In 2005, he became executive chef at Megan’s Kitchen, a contemporary hotpot and Cantonese restaurant concept.
“I used to gather with my chef friends after work, hotpot was our ‘must-eat’ every week. We examined soup bases, ingredients and exchanged all sorts of ideas altogether,” Au-yeung says. “Hotpot was one of my most craved foods when I was a kid, but it only became affordable once I started to earn my own living. Beef balls are my favourite.”
Unlike most hotpot chains, Megan’s Kitchen also serves premium Cantonese dishes, such as sautéed spare ribs with strawberries and mango, and fried pigeon cooked to a secret recipe. While these dishes are popular, what really draw the crowds are the innovative hotpot ingredients and wide selection of soup bases.
Au-yeung puts his own spin on ingredients with French-inspired twists such as stuffed cuttlefish ball with escargot, stuffed pork ball with chestnut, and foie gras and duck meat dumpling. He believes top-quality ingredients are crucial for hotpot because they arrive raw. “Guests cook the food on its own, like a slice of raw beef or fresh lobster. It’s not like a stir-fried dish where you stir in a few ingredients together and enhance the different flavours,” he says. As well as trusted suppliers, Au-yeung schedules a trip to the wet market every morning to handpick produce to ensure his guests experience his creations as fresh as possible. He has a few chef ’s tricks up his sleeve. To keep one of his meatball concoctions fresh, he says, “I pick out produce that is not too ripe [so it will be ripe when the meatballs are ready to eat].”
The chef also adapts the menu to meet diners’ ever-changing preferences. Serving broths with seasonal ingredients allows Megan’s Kitchen to constantly tweak its soup bases and menu, creating intriguing new dishes that attract a steady stream of loyal customers.
Hotpot allows customers to choose exactly what they want to eat, making it easy for the chef to spot any trends in tastes. “We are paying more attention to sourcing ‘healthy’ ingredients as customers are getting more conscious about their health as well as environmental protection. For example, we now serve Korean ham, which has lower sodium and lower fat compared to traditional luncheon meat,” Au-yeung says.
Going healthy doesn’t mean more restrictions to the typically yeet hay (“hot air”, or too much heat inside the body) dish. Au-yeung experiments with unusual seasonal broths every fall and winter: Italian parma ham consommé soup base in 2015; creamy chestnut and mushroom in 2016; and double-boiled French spring chicken stuffed with porcini mushrooms and quinoa last year. He believes most Hongkongers are too busy to prepare a good home-cooked meal, so the restaurant should provide a hassle-free dining experience with good-quality food and service.
“Having hotpot should be de-stressing. It is usually a happy occasion when family and friends gather for lunch or dinner, with a great variety of dishes to cook together. There is a sense of togetherness and sharing that makes hotpot the ultimate comfort food.”