Cantonese cuisine has changed tremendously in recent years, with more contemporary renditions of classic dishes and fusion styles than ever before. But what about the traditional Cantonese food that we grew up eating; with flavours and aromas that can evoke a sense of nostalgia for many of us. Thankfully, it’s well and truly alive at Chinese restaurants such as three Michelin-starred T’ang Court.
As one of only five Cantonese restaurants in the world to achieve three-star status, it’s safe to say that the cuisine — as we know it — is still going strong. T’ang Court too, continues to be a popular eatery for both locals and travellers as they celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. What’s more, it seems that much of the same team remain to this day.
So, in honour of the restaurant’s timeless dishes, and what seems to be a timeless team, we decided to go behind those burgundy drapes and into the kitchen with Executive Chef Wong Chi Fai to find out why they’ve stayed so long, what those timeless dishes are, and what he thinks of modern day Cantonese cuisine.
Chef Wong, you joined T’ang Court 19 years ago. Why have you stayed for so long?
A number of my co-workers, including kitchen and service team, have worked here for over two decades too. We are as close as family members and enjoy the strong team spirit of “one team, one dream.”
Do you think Cantonese cuisine is still as popular as it was all those years ago?
Michelin launched the Guide for Fine Cantonese Food which compiles the best locations across 15 countries in 2018. T’ang Court was one of the recommended restaurants, which really proves the popularity and importance of Cantonese cuisine on the global culinary stage.
T’ang Court is known for its elegant yet traditional-style Cantonese dishes. Why is it important to you to preserve this?
The essence of traditional Cantonese cuisine is the flame-cooking technique – how to cook perfectly within a short and precise time while keeping the freshness and original taste of ingredients, without using too much seasoning, involves a wide variety of techniques. And if I do not share my experience and tips with the young talents then we may lose this craftsmanship altogether.
What do you think about this new wave of Chinese chefs creating contemporary Chinese cuisine?
I enjoy trying new restaurants that serve contemporary Chinese cuisine. Having both traditional and contemporary options in the market offers variety. I’m glad to see some Chinese chefs showcasing their creativity in their dishes which [as a result] attracts the younger generation to appreciate Cantonese cuisine.
Can you please tell us more about those signature dishes that have remained to this day?
- Stir-fried lobster with onion, shallot and spring onion: Back in 2002, Chinese Master Chef Kwong Wai Keung was attracted by a whiff of stir-fried preserved black bean, which inspired him to create a dish that people could smell before they see, and hence his award-winning dish was born.
- Sautéed prawns and crab roe with golden-fried pork and crab meat puff: For this dish, Chef Kwong was inspired by the classic Cantonese recipe for golden-fried pork and crab meat puff, where preparation requires intensive craftsmanship and techniques. The dish is a rare find in restaurants now and so in 2001, he became determined to educate the younger generation about this traditional dish, thus he added sautéed prawns and crab roe on top, which was a perfect match with the puff, enhancing the appeal and taste to more guests.
- Baked seafood rice with cream sauce in crab shell: Chef Kwong was walking around a dinnerware store in the ’90s and discovered a stunning golden crab-shaped plate. Inspired by its extraordinary shape, he created the baked seafood rice and stuffed it in a crab shell before placing it on top of the crab-shaped plate.