Hong Kong is at no shortage of Cantonese restaurants, but only a handful make it to the best of the best with a Michelin star (or more) to prove it. For Chef Jayson Tang, he started his culinary journey from humble roots. Chef Jayson Tang worked at his parent’s dai pai dong where he would help with preparing ingredients. He was 15 years old when he realized that he wanted to take bigger steps towards a chef career. He now takes the reigns at Man Ho in JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong. The young, enterprising chef and his team helped earn the Chinese joint its first Michelin star. We speak with Chef Jayson Tang on his culinary journey to earning the prestigious accolade.
How did you get into food and cooking? What training did you do to become a chef?
I started to help in the kitchen when I was 10 years old and my parents were running a dai pai dong. I washed dishes, brought food to customers and later helped to prepare ingredients. At 15 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a cook. After Form 5 in secondary school, I started studying at the Chinese Culinary Institute during the day and worked in a hotpot restaurant at night to earn money and working experience. After graduation, I worked at Lei Garden and started my career in the industry.
Apart from studying at the Institute, I obtained very fruitful on-the-job training provided by my mentors, Chef Dicky To Kwok Him who is now working at The Peninsula Paris as well as Chef Paul Lau Ping Lui who is the master chef of Chef Dicky To and the culinary director of Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.
What do you think are the most important attributes for a chef?
The three most important attributes for a chef are refined culinary skills, virtue and management. Refined culinary skills is a basic attribute for a chef, which is to maintain the consistency of the high standards of dishes, and aiming to reach the next level of quality and experiences. Being a chef means more than bringing delightful dishes to diners. We must also consider the health of diners by serving responsibly sourced ingredients. Lastly, management of the working chain, such as human resources, food quality, safety and hygiene as well as coordination with other parties, is also the key attribute for a chef. It helps establish an efficient and effective work structure and conduct professionalism in all aspects of food production.
What is your process for creating a dish?
I like to discover fresh, great ingredients and simply use the best of the season. For example, sourcing mushrooms in summer and curating dishes with seasonal ingredients allows diners to enjoy the true taste of the produce. Also, understanding the market trends as well as customers preferences provide ideas to me in curating dishes and special-themed menus for diners. All these are the essential elements for me to create a dish.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
Egg is my favourite ingredient because it can be cooked in different ways and is so versatile. It can be fried, poached, scrambled, etc. Depending on how this ingredient is used and combined, eggs can be served as a major role or an accompaniment for tasty dishes.
What do you consider to be the standout moments of your career?
The makeover of Man Ho Chinese Restaurant in 2019 was the most challenging project in my career so far, as I took part in different important steps, from the construction plan to new settings of both the kitchen and the dining venue. Plus, I helped with the operation logistics as well as the new positioning of the restaurant. We reinvented the menu of the restaurant during the closure to promise diners an elevated culinary journey and dining experience.
You recently earned a Michelin star at Man Ho – congratulations! Has this milestone changed the way you curate your menus?
It is a great honor to earn a Michelin star for Man Ho Chinese Restaurant. This recognition does not change the way I curate menus. Instead, it reminds me to make great efforts in pursuing one of my core food philosophies. My goal is to deliver the highest culinary standards and curate delectable dishes to satisfy diners’ palates. I believe a delightful gastronomic dining experience brings back fond memories to diners and drives them back for this all the time.
Do you think Cantonese cuisine requires a particular set of skills that are different from those required for other cuisines?
Different from other cuisines, woks are commonly used in Cantonese cuisine. Under the condition of intense heat, the wok heats up quickly in just a few minutes. Thus, controlling the heat, understanding the condition of the food and appropriate seasoning are important during the short cooking process.
How do you balance traditional Cantonese cuisine with modern tastes?
I would say integration rather than balancing traditional Cantonese cuisine with modern tastes. Local culinary culture and skills act as a base which infuses modern touches. Taking an authentic yet modern approach can uplift the satisfaction of diners by delivering a refined unique dining experience.
How do you use international flavours in your menus?
Though Man Ho Chinese Restaurant serves traditional Cantonese cuisine, I thoughtfully source the freshest and unique produce harvested worldwide to present the original flavours of in-season ingredients with refined skills.
What do you want diners to take away from their experience at Man Ho?
Diners may forget the dishes that they took, but I think a good meal should be an experience or a gastronomic journey that is timeless. So, something that brings back fond memories to diners and makes them come back for this all the time.
What’s next at Man Ho?
In the coming days, I will continue to recreate some signature and classic traditional Cantonese dishes and integrate creative ideas and trends to develop new menus. Please stay tuned to our upcoming promotions!
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