LEE HIU NGAI
Chinese executive chef, Cassia, Capella Singapore
Hong Kong-born chef Lee has over 30 years of experience in Cantonese cuisine spent working in Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. Prior to joining contemporary Cantonese restaurant Cassia in 2010, he was executive Chinese chef at Grand Hyatt Beijing. He is best known for his signature double-boiled thick chicken broth, and his love for refreshing well-loved traditional favourites.
In the Chinese cuisine context, what’s the benchmark for a top Chinese fine dining restaurant?
Our benchmark is to provide an excellent dining experience by anticipating guests’ needs and exceeding their expectations with high food quality and exceptional service. At the end of the day, we want our diners to leave with smiles on their faces and return to dine with us again.
How do you see the Chinese fine dining scene changing in Singapore in the next five years?
Competition in the Chinese fine dining scene will continue to be stiff as we are now seeing more and more diners with refined palates. This means their expectations on the flavours and presentations of the food will also be higher.
At Cassia, what’s the sweet spot for serving up modern spins of classic dishes?
To maintain classic Cantonese flavours, the cooking style and the ingredients used are the most important. The modernity part will be reflected in the presentation of the dish. For example, my stewed ee-fu noodles with lobster in superior stock is still prepared with traditional cooking methods but the plating differs as compared to the past. In the past, the lobster meat will be added and mixed with the noodles, whereas now, the lobster is cooked and presented in half (with the shell) on the noodles.
Having worked in both Hong Kong and Singapore, what are some of the key differences in their Chinese fine dining restaurants?
The general difference is in the flavours. Hong Kong cuisine has more variety due to the different seasons. In terms of the emphasis, Singapore’s Chinese fine dining restaurants tend to incorporate Western influences whereas in Hong Kong, they are more aligned to traditional Chinese cooking styles.
What is key to elevating your dishes?
Ingredients are very crucial to bringing out the actual flavour of my creations. I will taste each and every ingredient right down to the soya sauce, to ensure that it produces the correct taste that I want to present to my diners.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind your signature double-boiled thick chicken broth.
My signature soup is the double-boiled thick chicken broth with fish maw, duo of scallops and flower mushroom. It is created as a nourishing delicacy for my diners. It is a comforting soup, using premium ingredients and double boiled for eight hours.
You have quite an interest in serving up nutritious food. How have you been including more of these elements in your dishes at Cassia?
Being healthy is the core in one’s life, and I hope to provide my diners with a nutritious yet delicious feast. Therefore, I try to ensure a mix of nutritional elements such as protein and fibre in my creations, paying special attention to the portion of each nutritious ingredient too. For example, the doubleboiled nourishing soup of the day in the menu will present different special soups of the day for different purposes. For the purpose of reducing heatiness, I will use winter melon or old cucumber as the main ingredients. For a more nourishing soup, I will opt for ingredients such wolfberry which nourishes the blood, liver and kidney.