LEE HIU NGAI

Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tive chef, Cas­sia, Capella Sin­ga­pore

Wine & Dine - - BEHIND THE SCENES: VISIONARIES -

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.

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