WEAR­ING YOUR HEART ON YOUR PLATE

Ed­ward Voon, ex­ec­u­tive chef of Hong Kong’s Le Pan, is hapy when cus­tomers feel the love in his dishes

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW CHAR­LENE CHOW

A Sin­ga­porean Chi­nese chef do­ing con­tem­po­rary French cui­sine in Hong Kong—many would have been fazed by this chal­lenge. Not ex­ec­u­tive chef Ed­ward Voon, a largely self-taught chef who cut his teeth at Man­darin Ori­en­tal Ho­tel, and later held lead­ing po­si­tions at var­i­ous top restau­rants in Sin­ga­pore.

Some 10 years ago, Voon had thoughts of open­ing his own restau­rant. It would have re­sem­bled a ca­sual sushi joint, only his would have served tapas food. But plans changed when he was asked by Pan Su­tong, a Chi­nese bil­lion­aire elec­tron­ics and real es­tate mogul, to be his pri­vate chef. Voon agreed and since then, has not only cooked for Pan, but helmed Le Pan at Tian­jin Metropoli­tan Polo Club. Two years ago, he started Le Pan Hong Kong, a fine din­ing con­tem­po­rary French restau­rant when Pan’s Goldin Fi­nan­cial Global Cen­tre opened in Kowloon Bay.

“It was good that it hap­pened. Dur­ing that time, maybe I wasn’t ready to open my own restau­rant. Now I’m quite com­plete with the whole pack­age, whether it’s the man­age­ment side or the busi­ness part. 10 years in Hong Kong has taught me a lot.”

With chef Yew Eng Tong, for­merly of Re­sorts World Sen­tosa, join­ing him at Le Pan ear­lier this year, Voon says he now has more band­width to think fur­ther ahead and im­ple­ment ad­di­tional projects, such as launch­ing an Asian-in­spired 33-course menu and men­tor­ing a young chef.

When you first launched the restau­rant, were there doubters?

Among fine din­ing restau­rants in Hong Kong, I was the only Chi­nese chef man­ag­ing a French restau­rant, and I was the new kid on the block. They would have asked, “Is this restau­rant se­ri­ous?”. They would have been cu­ri­ous. But I think this was good. It made them come and taste for them­selves. For the first three to six months, it was about con­vinc­ing peo­ple on the plate, show­ing them that this guy can cook. Af­ter that, we started push­ing the cre­ativ­ity quo­tient up. But the sky’s the limit. I’m con­fi­dent that what we pro­duce is one of the top in town.

De­fine your ver­sion of con­tem­po­rary French cui­sine.

I call it con­tem­po­rary French reimag­ined. It’s about ex­press­ing our roots with some touches of flavours from Sin­ga­pore and Asia. The right bal­ance is im­por­tant, but we’re al­ways think­ing about how to make it more ex­cit­ing, to think out of the box and see what goes well. One ex­am­ple is our can­cale whelk ravi­oli, seaweed, fer­mented black bean dish launched ear­lier this year. Peo­ple said, “How wat ah!” which means it’s very smooth. They liked the tex­ture/ sen­sa­tion on the palate.

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced both, how do you com­pare the din­ing scene in Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong?

Each has its own beauty. In Sin­ga­pore, the hawker food is just amaz­ing. In Hong Kong, it’s more about the cul­ture, the Can­tonese food and the way they do cer­tain dishes like their noo­dles. And in Hong Kong, the spend­ing is crazy when peo­ple dine out to host par­ties. Yet they un­der­stand what you’re go­ing through; cus­tomers come up to you and say they’re ap­pre­cia­tive of the food and, that they feel for you.

Share your thoughts on din­ing awards.

It’s not about get­ting Miche­lin stars, though it would be grat­i­fy­ing to re­ceive this ac­co­lade from such a re­spected voice in the pro­fes­sion. As with a lot of things, you have to be pa­tient. If it doesn’t hap­pen this year, it doesn’t mean it won’t hap­pen next.

It’s all about con­sis­tency. Let the food do the talk­ing. If we are in the guide, we have to work hard. If we are not, we have to work hard too. I dine out a lot in Hong Kong and know that we are among those in the guide. The great almighty may be say­ing that we have to work hard one more year be­fore giv­ing it to you. It’s a lot about luck, but we have to cre­ate luck and that means work­ing hard.

Since this is our lux­ury is­sue, we must ask, what’s the most lux­u­ri­ous tast­ing menu you’ve done?

Our tast­ing menus are very lux­u­ri­ous, ev­ery day. We use in­gre­di­ents such as caviar, truf­fles, blue lob­ster, and Te Mana lamb from South­ern New Zealand. Lux­ury is a life­style. We are of­fer­ing a lux­ury life­style ev­ery day. It has to be at that level of lux­ury in line with the set­ting of our restau­rant, the level of ser­vice we pro­vide and the lo­ca­tion we’re in.

Tell us more about the two-day Asia Un­leashed 33 menu you planned for end-Oct?

It’s a once-off menu. As we are Asians and Sin­ga­pore­ans, we wanted to share our flavours with the peo­ple in Hong Kong. Shar­ing is im­por­tant. We’ve been pre­par­ing this for about a year. We de­cided on 33 af­ter much anal­y­sis. We found that one can still fin­ish that num­ber of cour­ses, but not 35. But it had to be over 30 to show the length and di­ver­sity of our cre­ations. The menu will fea­ture dishes such as beef ren­dang cooked with beef ten­don which is ten­der yet has a bite and tex­ture to it.

What are some other ways you’d be bring­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences to your din­ers?

We re­cently did a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dutch chef Ser­gio Her­man, and will be do­ing an­other with Ger­man chef Chris­tian Bauer of Troika Sky Din­ing in Jan­uary. I would also like to do some­thing in­volv­ing Chi­nese dim sum soon. Many French-styled dim sum for one night. We can use French tech­niques for in­stance us­ing mush­room dough to make some of the dim sum. But when you put it in your mouth, it should taste good.

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