Lee Dakang is a chef by heart for 40 years
From apprentice to chef and restaurant owner – Lee Dakang has achieved what aspiring cooks dream of. And he not only has tips for them, he also has an eye on them.
When you think back to your beginnings, what drove you to become a professional chef?
When I was a young apprentice in the kitchen of a hotel, I looked at the executive chef and head chefs, I was so impressed by the way they acted and the way they dressed. I already told myself that day, that one day I will be a chef to be admired by young cooks.
You come from Taiwan, you work in China: What culinary developments do you currently see in both countries?
I am very lucky to live in this area. When I started my career 40 years ago in Taiwan, which was the golden age of Taiwan! It lasted about 20 years, you would find “made in Taiwan” everywhere around the world. Since 2007, I started again in China, now you will find “made in China” everywhere in the world too! The most different is the changing place and the volume! China is a huge country, full of opportunities and challenges. Ideals are all around you, it’s hardly to decide to focus one thing here in China.
What current culinary trends – also worldwide – do you see?
Green and safe, health and environment, will be noticed more by consumers. But the total dining experience going to be more interested by people going into the restaurant. In China through the internet, food delivery is booming too. Foods ready to cook or ready to eat, are spread out in China. The culinary trends in the future which is international wise. Through the transportation and internet communication, the world is getting smaller, we can try out whatever you like to try. Fusion is still the trend, but depending on the chef’s background.
You’ve been in the cooking business for four decades, running your own online blog: What motivates or fascinates you about the culinary world?
Yes, during these four decades I have been experienced a lot from different way of working. From French kitchen apprentice to line cook. From supervisors of central kitchen to executive chef. Two years re-education in New England Culinary Institute, Chef/Owner of restaurant. Hotel executive chef and huge production of factories canteen central kitchen. Now doing consulting for a few restaurants and factories in R&D area. I just love it. There is no reason, sometime I can only tell the younger generations, just like fall in love with another girl. I would do everything for her, even giving up my life in return to have her loving me.
Do you call yourself a food lover? And would you share your favorite dish with us?
I am a food lover, excepted those rear species, I will try to taste them and try to figure out what we get benefit from them.
I love salmon, when I was in Seattle, I crush on the returning salmon. After when I returned to Taiwan, started my own restaurant, beside steaks, salmon was my restaurant specialty. I would cook any way you want. One of my special is salmon wrapped risotto. Steps: arrange thinly sliced salmon in fan on a fryer resistant plate. After cooking mushroom risotto while it’s still hot, lay on salmon fan on one side. Fold up each slice of salmon to form a wrapped risotto by salmon. Glazed with Hollandaise, and enjoy it! The special part is the salmon flesh is cooked by hot risotto and the glazing hollandaise!
You support up-and-coming chefs and talents: What do you notice about them both positively and negatively?
After twelve years working in China, that I noticed a common negative problem in each generation. They are afraid of taking responsibility and challenges. We not only tried to encourage them but also need to persuade consumers to do so too. The positive parts are they are learning fast, with new technologies, the good man here is not so many but the quality of the good man here is the top of the world.
What can you give the young generation of cooks on their way?
I can only try to keep myself up this running fast area, and try to act like a professional chef as I was dreamed of. Hopefully there is young man look at me and tell themselves that they will be acted like this way in the near future.
You have initiated a kind of “chef’s meeting” in the city: What’s the goal?
To bring people working in this area together, so we can help each other, and help people around us to recognize the quality of food, quality of work, quality of life.
How important is the exchange with other chefs?
Very important! Especially here in China! People here need to learn how to communicate with others. With all international chefs gathering parties, which will help the younger generations to notice and learning how to share with others.
When you compare your work as an employed chef and as a restaurant owner: How enriching and challenging are these jobs? To what extent does creativity get lost in the kitchen as a local owner?
If I only satisfy by acting like a chef, I will not understand the reality of this business. Only I have done all the jobs from apprenticeship, cook, chef in different area and level, then the owner. I am totally confident by myself that I can handle this business. From all those area and level, I learned how to read other people’s minds. I learned how to make people comfortable when they needed.
Most of the local owner are chasing money in this business, or showing money. They forgot that the F&B business is based on service. Of cause, a lot people stocked in the regulations and principal. If people welling to under the truth about service, they will come up many ideals and creativity automatically. Or frankly speaking, face the problem directly by yourself, do not expect other people to do for you.