What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I am the Executive Chef of the Cheong Fatt Tze Restaurant, which serves modern Cantonese and Schezhuan cuisine in the award-winning The Blue Mansion – a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gorge Town, Penang. I have been in the culinary business for 25 years, but my journey actually began even before then. Both my parents worked with Chinese food and I grew up in the kitchen, helping them cook. I learned the art of fresh noodle and dim sum making from a very early age. After earning my diploma in culinary from the well-known SHATEC (Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Center), I expanded my culinary know-how to Western food. I worked in various reputable free-standing restaurants and 5-star international and independent hotel chains in Singapore and Philippines before arriving at CHEONG FATT TZE.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
One of the highlights of my career was when I worked in Mt. Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. My job then is best described as a VIP Chef, where I had to prepare food for presidents of countries, diplomats and other such VIP patients. I was on call and cooked whatever the VIP patients wished to eat. I found that to be quite an honour.
The perfect day off would be…
Monday is my usual day off and I usually shop early in the morning around 6.30am when the produce is freshly displayed in the markets. At this early hour of the day, a good breakfast is a hot cup of local white coffee and slices of traditional roti bakar with kaya – toasted Hainanese white bread served with homemade coconut jam.
What’s your personal favourite meal/ drink?
As you can probably tell, roti bakar with kaya is one of my favaoutite things to eat. Though it’s a popular breakfast dish, I like it at anytime of the day as it is so appealingly lovely. Delicious. Most coffeeshops or ‘kopitiam’ serve good local food. I like my local kopitiam where I can have a variety of local food, and I highly recommend the Malay Chicken Rice. It has its own delicate flavour, though its origin is Hainanese.
A day in the life of a chef is…
Madness and mayhem but also a lot of fun! There is no question that a life in the kitchen is high pressure, especially with Chinese food, where preparation and timing is everything. Nevertheless, I would not have it any other way as it allows me the freedom to be creative and produce little works of art for diners to appreciate.
What do you do for fun?
Penang is such a beautiful island with its own unique culture and mix of people from different backgrounds, all representing a wonderful variety of food. When I have time off work, I usually go to Kek Lok Si Temple complex in Air Itam on the other side of Penang Hill to explore the largest Taoist/Buddhist temple complex in South East Asia. Alighting from the bus, I would stroll through the market, full of life and activity, before climbing 220 steps to the temple. Feast your eyes on the variety of everyday life and your nose will be assailed with the rich aroma of the food! Here the famous laksa, cendol and fresh young coconut juice will make your trip very rewarding!
What’s something you’d like guests to know about the Cheong Fatt Tze Restaurant?
Our elegant restaurant is located in The Blue Mansion, an award-winning and beautifully restored favourite home of Cheong Fatt Tze, a rags to riches entrepreneur from China, who came to Penang in search of his fortune. It is an iconic landmark on the island and known for its architectural grandness and heritage splendour. The restaurant is located in the front of the mansion on the first floor, with a beautiful balcony that looks out on to the street. It was once the family area of the home, where womenfolk of the house would sew or relax, flanked by the Master’s Chamber and the Handmaiden’s Suite, which are now private dining rooms for larger parties.
What’s your favourite (s) food and wine pairing?
With all the famous street food available in Penang, Cheong Fatt Tze Restaurant offers a calm, intimate and fine dining ambience, with a menu that is traditional with fusion twists. Our signature dishes like the Crispy Eggplant or Wasabi Prawns make excellent light starters to be followed by Hong Kong Style Beef Tenderloin or the Atlantic Cod with its exquisite sauce served with fresh farm vegetables. Paired with a beautiful bottle of wine from a list curated by our award-wining Group Sommelier, the meal is perfectly ended on a fresh note with our special Mango Sago with Pomelo and Ice Cream.