Chef Jack Chan grew up around food. His father worked at a traditional dried seafood shop, which is where he first fell in love with cooking. Years later, Jack learned the ropes at award-winning Cantonese restaurant Lai Ching Heen, picking up tips and tricks from master chefs. All the while, he remembers the diversity of dried seafood, as his father used to tell him. Now, Chef Jack works at Celestial Court Chinese Restaurant at Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers. Guests tuck into Cantonese delights and traditional dim sum sharing traditions. We speak with the man of the kitchen on his influences and the important attributes to becoming a chef.
I was born and raised in a food loving family. My father worked for a traditional dried seafood shop in Hoi Mei Street located in Sheung Wan – and of course, he has a wealth of knowledge about dried seafood. When I was younger, I used to go to my father’s shop, and would overhear him talking to professional chefs. As time went by, I fell in love with cooking. Even today, I still need my father’s advice. Sometimes, we can talk about dried seafood all night long. Apart from my father, I guess Hoi Mei Street is also where I got into food and cooking – the street’s environment is so distinctive, full of colours and extremely fragrant. It’s hard to replace.
During my time, experience was more important than training and certificates, cooking schools were just beginning to open. Aged 16, I applied for the position of kitchen helper in Lai Ching Heen, the Cantonese restaurant at the Regent Hotel. It was once ranked among the world’s top 10 restaurants. Imagine how strong the team was at that time, and that’s the place where I started my career.
I think attention to detail and a good sense of hygiene are two of the most important attributes for a chef. In the cooking world, every single step is important, from the choice of ingredients, seasoning, cooking technique to serving – everything has to be planned and perfectly executed.
First, I will research, then test cook… I usually have to adjust the ingredients and only when it delights my palate will I serve it to others. It’s essential to make yourself happy first before you can delight others with your cooking!
So long as ingredients are seasonal and fresh, I’m happy to work with them. Of course, dried seafood is another story.
Some might think that it’s all about awards. For me, it’s genuine compliments from my guests. They provide the positivity I need in my career.
With many modern Cantonese restaurants in town, Celestial Court still retains a traditional identity, aiming to preserve classic Cantonese cuisine and its heritage for the next generations.
People nowadays are more health-conscious and some consider traditional Chinese cuisine as oily and greasy, it is actually not. Traditional Chinese cuisine is much more diverse than people even know, and what we aim to do is to prove that traditional Chinese cuisine can be healthy.
While we maintain the flavors and cooking skills of Chinese cuisine, I will choose western cooking equipment to assist with my cooking, my great helper is the combi oven. The oven helps me to make a really crispy chicken without using a too much oil – that’s one of the tricks to make the food healthier.
At Celestial Court, we are eyeing towards having more locally sourced ingredients, with sustainable seafood being a major part of it. We want to further demonstrate that Cantonese food and our environment are not at odds.