Advertising executive turned celebrity chef Jacky Yu epitomises the East-West spirit of his home city of Hong Kong.
Yu is known for his idiosyncratic dishes that draw on an array of Asian tastes to bring about a “contemporary Chinese” culinary style food.
Sometimes dubbed Hong Kong’s answer to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for his high-profile TV shows and cookbooks, Yu’s Xi Yan group runs restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I tend to say I cook Asian food, rather than describing it as fusion cuisine. Sometimes people think that by simply mixing food from one place with another you end up with fusion, but it doesn’t always work.
My food has traditional Chinese elements with Western techniques. Every place that I travel to, I go to the local markets to see what ingredients they use, their cooking styles and when I get back home, I do a bit of research and use my own methods to cook.
I’ve always cooked things my way and my style emerged from that, using ingredients from places like Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China.
You used to work in advertising, what made you switch to a career as a chef?
I had cooked for many years, but I was never a professional cook. But the things I cooked tended to be my own inventions. Initially my friends kept coming to my home for dinner and asked me to open a restaurant together.
At the time I was in advertising and I thought working in restaurants would be too tough, but then in 1997, the stock market crash came and I wanted to change fields.
You’ve been described as Hong Kong’s answer to Jamie Oliver. What do you make of that?
I think that’s way too flattering because Jamie Oliver is a world famous chef whereas I’m not. While I’m happy at the comparison, I don’t think I’m anywhere near his level.
We’re also quite different. He walks a more commercial route, but I like to take a more artistic path. I don’t want to be in anyone’s shadow.
What is your favorite cuisine?
I like Chinese food, of this, I particularly like Sichuan cuisine because I like eating spicy things. While there are many different types of spicy cuisine, like Thai, Indian, Japanese Wasabi, Sichuan spiciness is more rounded in that you’ve red chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, fiery ginger, many different types combined together.
How do you come up with your recipes, which include oolong tea smoked chicken, durian pancakes and stewed beef shin with preserved tangerine peel?
It just comes to me, sometimes during sleep, walking on the streets, or while eating. I carry a little notebook and camera with me all the time, so I can write it down straight away in case I think of something.
You often say you approach food as art. How is that?
Eating is already a kind of art, engaging all our senses of sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch. And the way you present food can give many different perceptions, on a beautiful plate it can seem like an artwork.
In fact, in my first restaurant, all the ceramic tableware I made myself. But what’s most important is always taste, food can’t just look good.
Custard Glutinous Rice Dumplings in Ginger Soup
400g glutinous rice flour
For the Ginger Soup
1 big piece ginger (sliced)
slab brown sugar
2 litres water
9 yolks of salted duck egg
pack candied winter melon (150g)
cup fried peanuts
cup fried sesame seeds
cup dessicated coconut
4 heaped tbsps sugar
1 Steam salted duck egg yolks for 10 minutes till soft. Mash with a fork. Dissolve butter in a pan. Finely dice candied winter melon. Crush fried peanuts. Bake dessicated coconut in oven until crispy.
2 Mix melted butter and all ingredients well. Refrigerate (for at least 4 hours) till set. Roll into small balls as fillings.
3 Add warm water to glutinous rice flour and knead into a dough. Wrap fillings in the dough and roll into balls.
4 Cook ginger soup by bringing the ingredients to the boil.
5 Bring water to the boil in another pot. Add dumplings and cook till they float. After 1 minute, remove dumplings and put into the ginger soup. Serve.