THE DUMPLING CONNECTION
The tradition of yum cha may seem sacred, but for both seasoned veterans and a new generation of chefs, the possibilities of Hong Kong’s iconic meal are vast and unexplored. Charmaine Mok explains why T.Dining’s Dim Sum Duets is a project for our times
Reinventing the art of yum cha
How much innovation can Chinese food take, really? When it comes to the question of parting ways with tradition, it seems to us that there’s a tendency to see things in black and white—that is, the belief that certain things are meant to be untouched. But we’re not going to argue about how tiresome it is to continue seeing “upgrades” such as chefs putting gold leaf on har gao, or using caviar in place of the more humble crab roe to embellish their siu mai. These accoutrements, at best, are distractions—a hollow attempt to add a false value proposition to dishes that have been perfected over decades, even centuries. But to stop exploring the possibilities would be a fallacy, too.
What would happen, we wondered, if we ignited a conversation around dim sum and its potential iterations? As Hong Kong’s most iconic culinary practice, it’s also one of the most familiar—most of us will have a reference point for these delicious little morsels hidden in those towering, weathered bamboo baskets, eaten unreservedly with sloshings of tea. We also wanted to bring together chefs from different backgrounds to explore the techniques and flavours that are so anchored to Hong Kong’s culinary identity. By pairing up veteran Chinese chefs who boast solid dim sum experience with a new generation of young guns, and then having them explore the genre to come up with a collaborative menu of new yum cha creations together, the idea of Dim Sum Duets was born—a project that champions both our local traditions and the most talented chefs working today.
With the support of Swiss brand V-ZUG and their kitchen showroom ZUGORAMA, we were able to—over the course of nine evenings in November 2017 and May 2018—work with 12 incredible Hong Kong-based chefs who presented their own vision of dim sum to an audience of food lovers. The legendary Chinese master chefs included Mango Tsang of Dynasty Garden, Leung Fai-hung of Hoi King Heen, Jack Chan of Celestial Court and Lee Man-sing of Mott
32; representing the new generation of chefs working outside of the classic Cantonese canon were May Chow of Little Bao, Max Levy of Okra, Vicky Lau of Tate Dining Room & Bar, Nicholas Chew of Bibo, Vicky Cheng of VEA, Hidemichi Seki of Tenku Ryugin, Agustin Balbi of Haku and Daniel Calvert of Belon. Each night brought a different vibe, and an array of intriguing creations—all of them surprising, witty, and incredibly wonderful to eat.
For the chefs, the camaraderie that built up over the course of the event was the most rewarding part of the project. New connections were forged, and fresh ideas and inspirations were ignited. Levy found the collaboration free of ego, one that became a true meeting of minds. “Chef Lee’s use of scallion oil with lotus seeds in a sweet pairing really caught me off guard,” he says. “It reminded me of all the uses of vegetables in sweet dishes that I grew up with.” Meanwhile, Chan relished the opportunity to work with French-trained chefs Cheng and
Chew, with whom he created dim sum such as spicy minced goose crystal bun with XO sauce, and “har gao” with chopped celeriac filling and shrimp oil.
Dim Sum Duets is just the beginning of a new dialogue, a starting point for new ways of exploring a time-honoured tradition—not with gold leaf, but with an open mind and an appetite for learning from different points of view.
Dim Sum Duets is a project that champions both our local traditions and the most talented chefs working today