Ho Chun-hung – Chinese Chef de Cuisine at the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong
Ho Chun-hung is Chinese Chef de Cuisine at the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin. He has more than 30 years of experience in Chinese cuisine, having worked across China and in Indonesia.
He joined the Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin as Chef de Cuisine – Events when the hotel opened in 2009, and now also oversees culinary operations at the award-winning Chinese restaurant, Sha Tin 18.
Chef Ho tells us about his experience of cooking in different cities, using unusual local and seasonal ingredients, and his mission to keep Cantonese food authentic.
Chef Ho, please give us a little more background on your training and work experience.
I have worked at different restaurants and hotels both in Hong Kong and abroad.
In Indonesia, the dining culture is different from Hong Kong and it is difficult to source ingredients that are used in Hong Kong Chinese restaurants. I had to find alternatives to the ingredients that I usually use in my dishes and needed to modify my menus. In the process, I discovered special spices which I added to my dishes to enhance flavour.
I had to lead a team of chefs that did not know how to prepare Chinese food so I had to teach them everything from cooking techniques and food temperature to preparation time organisation, and more. This training process required a lot of time and patience.
My experience in working at traditional restaurants and hotels in Hong Kong enabled me to master training skills both in culinary aspects and the administration of my team. In the kitchen, it is important to select quality ingredients and to master cooking techniques to make authentic traditional Chinese food. Less and less restaurants serve traditional Chinese food either because young chefs have never acquired these skills or the preparation process is too complicated and chefs think the work is too tedious, thus turning to simpler alternatives. Therefore, passing on the skills of traditional Chinese culinary is important to pass on the tradition.
What was crucial in my managing direction was making sure that there was effective communication, team spirit and care among colleagues.
You specialise in local Cantonese cuisine – how would you describe your style of cooking?
I like to use fresh, local ingredients in my dishes, using traditional cooking methods like steaming, stir frying, etc. I also like to prepare my own homemade sauces instead of using ready-made sauces. For example, I make spicy wild chilli sauce to be used in dishes such as steamed garoupa belly with preserved green beans and wild chilli, or simmered clams with luffa, glass noodles and wild chilli.
You’ve cooked in cities across China including Beijing, Jiangsu, Shandong and Shanghai, as well as in Indonesia, before returning to Hong Kong in 2009. Did you find there were differences in working in these different places?
Indonesia is a Muslim country and we had to take note of the local culture and religion. We had to be extra careful not to serve pork to Muslims. I had to specially source local ingredients to use in my Chinese dishes. The chefs there had a good working attitude, though they knew very little about preparing Chinese food. The language barrier was also a problem so it took more time and patience to explain to them the essence of Cantonese cuisine.
Indonesia produces exotic spices for cooking, including fresh spices that are used to provide sour and spicy tastes. Satay is often used in Indonesian cuisine.
Shanghai is known for its openness in accepting new cultures and cuisines. Shanghai cuisine is also known as Benbang cuisine, which refers to the complex and developed styles of cooking under profound influence of those of the surrounding provinces, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. It takes “colour, aroma and taste” as its elements, like other Chinese regional cuisines, and emphasises in particular the use of seasonings, the quality of raw ingredients and original flavours. Chefs in Shanghai are hardworking and flexible to try new ingredients and cooking styles. They are very efficient in completing tasks.
Beijing cuisine is influenced by culinary traditions from all over China, but the style that has the greatest influence on Beijing cuisine is that of the eastern coastal province of Shandong. Beijing cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, maintaining original flavours. The colour, smell, taste and appearance is important for this cuisine. The working attitude of chefs in Beijing are positive. It takes time before the local chefs to adapt to usage of new ingredients.
Hong Kong is a place where you can find cuisines from all over the world. The menu is changed according to seasonal items. Ingredients are seldom repeated in the dishes so we source a large amount of different ingredients. Since there are so many choices offered, it challenges the creativity and skill of the chefs to create unique dishes that appeal to guests’ palette.
You specialise in using seasonal ingredients, where did you get these seasonal ingredients? Were they grown locally in Hong Kong? What sort of ingredients did you use, and in what dishes?
I like to use seasonal ingredients such as the Chinese wampi fruit and young ginger. I get these ingredients fresh from the local wet market.
I use the Chinese wampi fruit to make a homemade sauce from the fruit and honey from a local Sha Tin bee apiary. This sauce is used in the dish wok-baked cod fish with Chinese wampi paste, a refreshing dish that is best to be enjoyed in the summer time.
Young ginger can be bought from the wet market in the summer months of June and July. I preserve it using a special recipe to make it slightly sour, sweet and spicy. I have used this ingredient to create the dish braised pork knuckle with homemade pickled young ginger and vinegar-soaked black bean. The slightly sour and spicy taste of the young ginger matches perfectly with the tender and juicy braised pork knuckle, a dish that is suitable for the entire family.
Are there any other unusual ingredients you use?
I like to use ingredients that you can seldom find in other restaurants, including: Nanhai Eastern goat, lotus root, peanut sprouts and bamboo sprouts.
How would you describe the food served at Sha Tin 18?
It is authentic Cantonese cuisine. We focus on preserving the freshness and original taste of the ingredient, serving seasonal dishes. It’s a unique taste that can only be found at Sha Tin 18.
Please give two examples of dishes from Sha Tin 18 that you are most proud of.
I am most proud of the dishes: flambé rose wine barbecued pork with lard rice, and the wok-baked cod fish with Chinese wampi paste.
The traditional dish of barbecued pork is prepared with rose wine from the famous local wine producer, Wing Lee Wai. I use tender pork marinated with honey, rose wine, soy sauce and various ingredients to get the best texture and taste. The highlight of the dish is the live performance by our chefs: flaming rose wine is poured on the barbecued pork, filling the room with the delicious aroma of the rose wine and slightly charred barbecued pork. The barbecued pork is served with fragrant rice in which guests can mix in specially prepared lard and soy sauce. The lard is specially cooked with ginger, red onion and spring onion, which enhances the taste when mixed with rice.
I insist on making my own homemade sauces using seasonal ingredients for dishes to preserve the original taste, as I do in my wok-baked cod fish with Chinese wampi.
What do you think the dining scene for Chinese food in Hong Kong is like? Can you get all kinds of Chinese food? Is it authentic and high quality?
Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city and you can enjoy Chinese cuisine from different regions, such as Guangdong, Shanghai, Sichuan and more. A lot of Chinese restaurants choose to use Western ingredients such as foie gras, morel mushrooms, cheese, Parma ham and so on. However, I like to use Chinese ingredients to make traditional, quality Chinese cuisine.
Thank you, Chef Ho, and and congratulations on your 10th anniversary at the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin. You want to see more from Chef Ho? Read here his new recipe.
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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