Margaret Xu Xuan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am

Why do you grow your own ingredients? 'I grow up to 20 types of organic vegetable at my one acre [0.4 hectare] farm [in Yuen Long]. It's very hard to source organic Chinese ingredients. I can buy some ingredients from [the mainland] at the market but I don't know the sources, the quality or what they use in the soil. Some of these ingredients are really easy to grow, so I started doing it myself to ensure a regular supply. Also, I can't find a lot of the ingredients I need in the local market so I have to grow them myself.'

What is beneficial about using old-fashioned techniques? 'It's more creative and allows more freedom. I actually find it easier because it's following the natural path of things at their own pace. Back when I used charcoal in the village kitchen in Yuen Long, people thought it would be hard to control. But in fact, when you use charcoal, the fire is constant, you don't have to turn it up or down.'

Can people really tell the difference? 'I think they can't but [I hope] they can. My tofu [made from soy beans hand cranked on a stone mill] is an obvious example - you can taste the beans are a lot more concentrated. But I think most people will find the textures are not as fine as the commercial ones. Some people taste the difference, some don't. Some chefs consider it inferior to commercial tofu, which they judge only on how smooth or fine it is. But I think good quality is good quality; it doesn't matter if it's produced by a machine or a stone mill. Most of the people who come to my restaurant love my food and they keep coming back.'

Why did you name your new restaurant Yin Yang? 'It has a similar pronunciation to a popular drink - half coffee and half tea - that is drunk only in Hong Kong. English speakers [associate] Yin Yang with balance and that represents the organic food I like to use.'

Did you intend to run a small restaurant? 'Yes, because you can put a lot more heart into it; you don't have to do a production line. If you know the people who are dining at your place, you can make them as happy as possible. But with too many tables, it's just a business. It's not fine dining; it's not even happy dining.'

How do you come up with menus? 'Most chefs, when they want to do a certain dish, source the ingredients or, if they have found a special ingredient, they think about how to cook with it. The easiest way for me is to visualise a dish then think about which ingredients suit it best. I suddenly come up with an idea - the character of the dish or the concept of a dish. Because I used to be a writer and designer, something as simple as a word can inspire my cooking.'