The sophisticated Beijing-cuisine kitchens in Hong Kong are based on a complex structure of three culinary departments: stir-frying, expediting, and pasta. As a result, it is quite rare for a chef to come along who has had the time or the inclination to master all three departments. However, my love for these culinary arts, particularly Beijing cuisine, has been a driving force throughout my life, and it is what steered me to obtain that rare and valuable trifecta.
Back in Time
I was born in Canton, a port city on the Pearl River in the south of China. Discovering my passion for the culinary arts early on, I began training in the early 1980s as a stir-fry chef in Hong Kong. Master Wong, who was an executive chef of a long-established and respected restaurant there, took me under his wing and guided me along the rigorous path. He was a legend among Beijing-cuisine chefs, and I was very lucky to have him as a mentor. In the beginning, I was simply intrigued by the working environment of the professional kitchen. A Beijing kitchen being very unique with a solid structure, I knew I wanted to become a chef the first day I worked in the esteemed space. The skills and achievements of the successful culinary masters there inspired me to set a high goal for success.
Behind the Scenes at Mr Chow
My journey with Mr Chow began in 2002, when my long-time friend Chef David Hor, executive chef at Mr Chow Tribeca, referred me to the restaurant. I went first to Mr Chow London in Knightsbridge, and transferred in 2005 to the 57th Street locale of Mr Chow New York. There, I worked with Chef Hor to prepare and train chefs for the opening of the Tribeca outpost. In my current role with Mr Chow, I have helped to develop the menu for the opening of the newest development in Miami at the W South Beach. I continued with my training duties as well, preparing the new chefs from Shanghai and Beijing in the high standards demanded at all Mr Chow locations. I am now thrilled to move over to the West Coast to Mr Chow Beverly Hills, where I will be collaborating with veteran Mr Chow Executive Chef Eddie Wong.
My career with Mr Chow has been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. Their kitchens pride themselves on the fact that there has been very little staff turnover throughout the decades. For examples, chefs who opened Mr Chow in London 42 years ago stayed until they retired, and a few original chefs are still leading those kitchens. This has produced many positive results, one of which is that the food quality is always consistent. Another element that makes working for the Mr Chow unique is that a typical Mr Chow kitchen has very limited space for refrigeration. I later learned that our owner, Mr. Michael Chow, intended this when he designed the kitchens to ensure chefs buy and prep ingredients every day. He has always been very insistent on chefs producing and using only the freshest and best ingredients.
When I was beginning to learn the art of Beijing-style cuisine, one of the most challenging dishes to master was Kung Pao Chicken. Although in America this is a common dish, in Hong Kong, it was difficult for me to perfect it because the dish required perfect cutting, temperature control, and timing. For some reason, very simple tasting dishes are more challenging, and this was one that threw me for a loop several times. I firmly believe that you can tell a huge difference when a dish is prepared with passion and care versus when it is not. A good chef needs to cook with heart, just like a mother cooks for a child, and it must start with fresh ingredients. Currently, my primary sources of inspiration come from tasting other chefs’ creations. I particularly enjoyed sampling dishes prepared by the chefs who just arrived from Shanghai and Beijing for the opening of Mr Chow Miami.
Chinese food comes from 5,000 years of culture and has been evolving at a rapid pace since the 21st century. As a result, Mr. Michael Chow has thrived on introducing refined Chinese food to the West since 1968. I, as a Chinese chef, look forward to working with younger generation chefs from China to further enhance Chinese cuisine for you, the readers, and the world.
Chef Yuen Keung Lau
344 North Camden Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210