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
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.