THE TASTE MAKERS
DANNY YIP, EDWIN TANG and JAYSON TANG are doing more than dishing up some of the city’s best Cantonese cuisine. As WILSON FOK learns, the three visionary chefs are also redefining the genre for generations to come
I DON’T THINK there’s a Chinese food trend, is there?” asks Danny Yip, chef/owner of The Chairman, which currently tops the list of Asia’s 50
Best Restaurants. “The majority of Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong are still more the old-school, recipe-based style, although we are seeing younger chefs getting creative with Chinese cuisine – such as Happy Paradise’s May Chow, Wing’s Vicky Cheng, China Tang’s Menex Cheung and Man Ho’s Jayson Tang, among others.”
Yip – who insists on omitting MSG and replacing it with homemade meat and seafood jus to enhance flavour, or aged condiments to highlight umami in his dishes – may not see his particular cuisine as trendy but The Chairman is certainly setting a trend for excellence when it comes to Cantonese food. The restaurant focuses on seasonality and seafood, most often to highlight their subtleties, which drives the restaurant’s approach to testing and launching dishes throughout the year.
“Unlike Western restaurants, we only switch up to 20% of all dishes on the main menu at one time,” he explains. “We feel that’s the maximum number of new dishes we should introduce. Frankly, each dish needs to taste good and create a good memory or craving for the guests before we confirm whether to feature it on the menu.”
Few dishes are permanent fixtures, perhaps with the exception of Yip’s signature steamed flower crab with aged Shaoxing wine and chicken fat, and sweet and sour ribs. The chef describes these classics as staples, but not so important that they will never be switched out. Over the years we have seen a wider range of meat cuts and seafood developed into new classics – lamb offal in casserole, slipper lobsters in rice porridge, crab roe on pomelo pith and winter melon – but they’re not the only new things
The Chairman has in store.
Despite a months-long waiting list, the restaurant is set to undergo renovations in July. “We’re also floating the idea of making the restaurant tasting-menu only, with dishes selected by us for all guests. This allows us to be more precise and polished in what we do,” Yip says.
The key is not to limit the restaurant’s potential, but to expand it by following a less-is-more approach. “We’re not adding more ingredients to our dishes; we’re stripping down to basics and trimming down on excess. We’re refining our cuisine not by way of adding luxurious ingredients, but by becoming more focused.
“We’re refining our cuisine not by way of adding luxurious ingredients, but by becoming more focused”
“We have always highlighted seafood as our strength, but it’s not the only thing we can do. We set our standards high and we rarely try to compare ourselves with other restaurants. Instead, we often compare our current version of a dish with our previous two versions. Competing with yourself is fun, and there’s no better way to be creative than to have fun. Success is a great add- on, but being playful and knowing how to have fun with food is a prerequisite and a necessity to make a good restaurant a great one.”
On the other side of town, after six years at the helm of Cuisine Cuisine at The Mira, 43-year-old Edwin Tang has found his groove as one of the most consistent Chinese chefs in Hong Kong. The energetic chef rejoices over the ravenous curiosity of his guests, often with an appetite to try dishes old and new.
For Tang himself, the flourishing of Chinese cuisine relies on us looking back. “We should never forget how dishes originate: where they come from and how past chefs executed them,” he says. A history