Maestro in a 'Mediterrasian' state of mind

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am


Composer and producer Eddie Chung Yan-tai is passionately involved in two creative pursuits. The first is music, from which he makes a living and includes writing jingles, scoring feature films and producing albums through his consultancy, Drum Music. The second is cooking, which he does for pure pleasure. He combines the two at his office, which has sophisticated studio facilities and a slick black-and-stainless-steel kitchen.

How long have you been interested in cooking?

For as long as I can remember. My mother, a very good cook, would ask me what I wanted to be. I would answer a chef, because I liked to eat. When I was nine, I lived in Australia, and for a time it was just dad and me, so I began cooking dinner every night. Later, when I was still at school, I cooked for my brother and me when our parents were away. I cooked for friends and even catered a 21st birthday party for myself and a friend. There were 130 guests.

Why didn't you become a chef?

I guess it was because I felt at the time that I wasn't good enough. Also I didn't know any chefs. There were no chef role models in my life. The role model I had was in advertising, which influenced my decision to get into that industry. From there, I was able to develop a career in music.

What do you like about hosting dinner parties?

I enjoy feeding people and the pleasure it brings. I also like the creativity. It is like music. I have all sorts of instruments and a palette of tens of thousands of sounds at my disposal, but the important part is choosing the right instruments to accompany the music. It is the same with cooking. You have to know what will work and what will not, but you can be totally creative.

How did you come to have a kitchen and dining area in your office?

I have always had a good kitchen in my home and used to entertain a lot. I have two children, which makes holding dinner parties difficult. When my business partner - who also enjoys cooking - and I found this space, it was big enough to include a kitchen, so we thought 'why not?' I have a five- to seven-course dinner party two or three times a month for up to 20 guests.

Can you describe your cooking style?

'Mediterrasian'. I am not talking Peking duck pizza; it's more subtle than that. I like adding Asian elements to Mediterranean dishes, such as taking an Italian cream sauce pasta and adding salmon roe for a Japanese note. Another is a dish inspired by Chiu Chow crab with vinegar. I use a Chinese crab and serve it with a Western vinaigrette.

What is your current food obsession?

Pizza. I have a double pizza oven in the office kitchen and a single one at home, and have been experimenting for more than a year. I've been perfecting the dough, working with dry and fresh yeast, even the water used. I have also tested different baking pans and placement in the oven. I keep the toppings simple; a current favourite is shrimp and chorizo and, of course, a thin crust. I recently got some sous-vide equipment, after some pressure from a chef friend. I was initially resistant to the idea, but after reading about the science, safety and benefits, I am now keenly experimenting. I like the idea of sous-viding 10 steaks so that, instead of standing over a hot stove, I can enjoy wine with friends while the meat cooks perfectly every time - largely on its own.

What's your top dinner party tip?

Have a contingency menu plan. I have had a person suddenly announce they didn't eat beef when that was the main course. I now have a few backup dishes for this type of situation.

With a second kitchen, do you still cook at home?

Not as much. When I do, I like to get the children involved, they are two and seven. I think cooking is a basic skill children should learn - say, five to 10 dishes they can make. The trick to getting them involved is to make something they like eating.

Do you follow cookbook recipes?

I have about 50 cookbooks, which I use more for inspiration. The only exception is Annie Leong's recipes, which we use a lot, especially at home. I follow her recipes, and the dishes taste fantastic every time.

Any plans to open a private kitchen?

I've thought about it, but am concerned that if cooking becomes work, or related to money, it may not give me the same pleasure that I get from cooking for friends.