The owner of Michelin-starred Tate Dining Room & Bar in Hong Kong – Vicky Lau was named Best Female Chef 2015 by the organisers of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. In this interview, she speaks to us about her career switch from graphic design to cooking, upcoming food trends, and her plans for the future
At what age did you start cooking, and who first taught you how to cook?
I didn’t learn how to cook until I was in high school when I had to cook for myself in boarding school in the United States. The dining hall food was the only source of meals, so the foreign students would often crave for homecooked food. On weekends we would gather in each other’s dorm rooms and cook up a storm – with just a mini electric stove and rice cooker.
How would you describe your culinary style?
My style is feminine and creative, with a focus on storytelling. I like to consider my dishes ‘Edible Stories’. Due to my background in graphic design, I tend to start with a theme, a narrative or a concept, and build on that.
What was it like when you were crowned Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2015?
I was very happy, surprised and honoured to receive this award. I never set out to win accolades, much less “Asia’s Best Female Chef”. I just wanted to do what I love.
This award has also opened the doors to more opportunities. It allowed me to meet more people for the chance to collaborate on new things, and many of them have shared their inspiration and vision, adding to this exciting journey.
What was it like when Tate Dining Room & Bar received one Michelin star?
I was truly thrilled to receive this recognition. I was also a tremendous encouragement for our team and their uncompromising standards and dedication.
How did your graphic design background influence your cooking style?
As a graphic designer I had an understanding of how visual cues like form, colour, tone and texture can be used to trigger a memory or evoke a response. This understanding helps me pay attention to all the finer details.
Who were some of your mentors that you looked up to?
Chef Sebastien Lepinoy – he was my mentor when I worked at Cepage in Hong Kong. He inspired me a great deal, teaching me cooking techniques, the importance of detail and being aware of what was around you. His cooking philosophy, and it’s one that’s shared in all the arts, is that simplicity is the sign of perfection.
Where do you get inspiration when you have to come up with new dishes?
The biggest influence would be the available ingredients around me and their flavour profiles, either from the perspective of how they can trigger a memory, or from exploring something new.
Inspiration can come from anywhere if you seek it with an open mind and pay attention to what is going on around you. Sometimes a movie or a piece of music can provoke a feeling or spark an idea; it just depends on how you interpret it and how it relates to you. Sometimes your interpretation of the same element can evolve over time, as you do. Your own dish can serve as a source of inspiration in the future, and evolve into another dish. In this way you’re always trying to beat your previous best.
Could you share with us the inspiration behind Tate Dining Room?
Tate is a name for the imaginary character of the restaurant. It helps me and the guests give the restaurant its own unique personality.
For me cooking is a harmony of art, craft and science. I am driven by my passion to tell a story. At Tate, I serve “Edible Stories” with each dish conveying an overarching theme, abstract concept or memory. The presentation of the dish provides the narrative where each ingredient is its own character and the interplay between the nuanced flavours, aromas and textures reveal the plot.
Could you share with us your thoughts on upcoming food trends?
Going back to nature and understanding the meaning of real, whole and natural foods is now more and more important to me and I think chefs these days are paying more attention to that.