Hunanese restaurant Chinese Kitchen was the winner of Best New Restaurant in Sai Kung in the Readers’ Choice Awards 2015. Originally from Hunan province in China themselves, chefs Feng Bo, Chen Jian Gui and his wife Lu Ling explain their journey to becoming chefs in Sai Kung and how they plan to transform Chinese Kitchen.
Feng, Chen and Lu arrived in Sai Kung about a year ago and it’s proved a successful move. “Our boss gave us the opportunity to be chefs in Hong Kong and, most importantly, to bring the flavours of Hunan to Hong Kong. We want people to know and fall in love with our food.” Chen and Feng have worked together for many years and were partners in a restaurant in Hunan before signing up to be Chinese Kitchen’s head chefs, with Lu as their assistant.
“When I was a child, it was my dream to become a pilot. But I have a different dream now and that is for people to try our food and be inspired to visit Hunan, just from the taste”, says Chen. Feng says his dream was to be a teacher but it was too difficult to go down that path. Instead, he started learning to cook in the kitchen of his family home. “It’s a practical skill to learn: you need it to live”, says Chen, “I was exposed to food from a very young age. My experience is built from scratch and has been accumulated over time.” Chen recalls that in the beginning he wasn’t even allowed to touch a knife. “I learnt from watching chefs in the kitchen and slowly I got more and more opportunities to prepare food and finally to cook food. It was hard work and a slow process but I feel like it’s paid off now.”
With a big grin on their faces, both agree that the best part of being a chef is getting the thumbs up from customers, especially from those that come in to the restaurant for the first time. “There is pressure working in the kitchen, especially when it’s really busy. But it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I know they’ve enjoyed our food.” The most popular dishes at Chinese Kitchen are also the most traditional ones, like the steamed fish head with chilli ($248) and the steamed razor clams with chilli and garlic ($380).
While sourcing herbs and spices essential to Hunanese cuisine was challenge back in Hunan, getting their hands on the right ingredients can sometimes prove difficult in Hong Kong. “The challenge of getting the right ingredients comes with cooking Hunanese food or any other food in Hong Kong” Chen says. “The soya sauce here is too sweet so we order sauces and herbs from Hunan to keep the authenticity of the flavours in our dish, which has got more of a spicy kick to it. The bacon from Hong Kong is too sweet for Hunanese cuisine so we must import it directly from Hunan.”
The chefs draw inspiration from visiting local markets, buying ingredients and experimenting with them. “We buy fresh seafood and experiment with different combinations of spices and herbs.” Surprisingly, the weather is also a factor the chefs take into consideration. “Spicy food is good for your health, especially in winter when you have a cold. It is also very damp in Hong Kong. We believe that spice will help release the heat from the body.”
Chen says Sai Kung is an interesting community with different tastes and, though the restaurant’s dishes are made with local ingredients cooked in Hunan style, they are adjusted to appeal to the tastebuds of locals and expats. “Westerners don’t like chewing on bone, so we debone the fish and chicken. Hunanese cuisine is notoriously spicy so we are happy to tone down the spice to suit our customers’ tastes. We hope that our menu will appeal to everyone.”
Open daily, 11am-11pm. 16 Wan King Path, Sai Kung, 2191 2498, www.facebook.com/cksaikung.