When did you become a dim sum chef? 'I started 31 years ago, when I was 19, at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, and have been working there ever since. At that time, being able to work at a hotel was very prestigious. I was able to choose from general cooking or making dim sum. I chose dim sum because it's more delicate. When I was young, we didn't get to have dim sum - it was only for those who were rich or important. The poor didn't have the chance to go to restaurants, so there was always this fascination for dim sum.'
What's special about making dim sum? 'It's a craft that requires nimble hands. I would spend eight hours training, then work part-time in restaurants, to practise. It takes a lot of studying with different masters to hone the skill. The fact that there are [fewer] youngsters who want to learn it is a major challenge to the development of our expertise. It's even more obvious in Hong Kong, which has turned to mass production. On the mainland, we still tend to make everything from scratch. It takes a very good foundation to maintain quality. Without proper training, one cannot roll a nice, thin dumpling skin. Many people rely on machines, which can give good results when used properly, but it's never the same. Making a dumpling wrapper by hand doesn't destroy the composition of gluten [which gives elasticity to the dough] as much as a machine does.'
Do you enjoy innovating? 'We still keep the traditional ways of making dim sum, but we work on creativity in terms of presentation and the combination of ingredients. One creation I'm proud of is dim sum in the shape of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. The menu is named after me, and those who order it get a live performance of me making the dim sum in front of them. We also incorporate Western approaches to presentation, without losing our Chinese traditions. Everything we use is natural - we don't use additives or artificial colouring. We use choi sum to get the green colour and carrot juice for the orange.'
What do you cook for family and friends? 'They all love my honey-glazed chicken wings. I braise the wings in my own soy sauce stock, with things like Sichuan pepper and star anise before using honey to glaze the skin. It's loved by guests of all ages.'