Young head chef proves a worthwhile gamble for high-end Hong Kong restaurant
At just 30 years old, Jayson Tang is the youngest executive chef at the five-star JW Marriott hotel in Admiralty
When Jayson Tang was recruited as the head chef of the five-star JW Marriott’s Chinese restaurant six months ago, not only did he have the task of creating an exciting new menu, but he also had to figure out how to manage a team of cooks who were far more experienced than he was.
At just 30 years old, Tang is the youngest executive chef at the hotel in Admiralty, and has been entrusted to rejuvenate the image of the 27-year-old restaurant to attract a younger group of diners.
The first thing he had to do however, was take command of the kitchen’s existing chefs, who are all old enough to be his father, and have spent far longer working in kitchens than he has.
“The most important thing is to respect them and don’t think highly of yourself,” Tang told the Post after he taught several veteran chefs how to cook the new November dishes he created for the restaurant.
Tang, who graduated from the Chinese Culinary Institute 10 years ago, is among very few cooks his age who have beaten the odds to rise to the head chef position at a high-end eatery like Man Ho.
While many of the city’s young people are frustrated by the gloomy prospective caused by the widening social gap and limited social mobility, Tang said his path to success had been to focus on the challenges in front of him, and never let things he could not control dishearten him.
“There are not many things that people can control in their life ... Instead of doing something that one would regret one day, why don’t you do your best on things that you can do, ” he said.
The phrase “do your best” to Tang has meant working 14 hours a day for the past 10 years, and then studying cook books when he gets home.
“I have never been a bright guy. I had to practise 10 times to make a decent dish, which other students would remember by doing once, or twice,” he said, adding he used to keep a diary and write down all the mistakes he had made just so he remembered.
As well as the hard work, the “hellish” training methods adopted by his mentors have sped up his progress. Tang said he had to eat all the dishes he cooked if his mentors ruled they were not tasty.
He recalled a day where he had eat four plates of stir-fried rice noodles with beef – a popular Cantonese dish – when he worked at Lei Garden.
“It made me want to throw up,” he said. “ Under such pressure, there is no way you don’t learn the lesson,” he said.
Tang said he also improved his skills by listening to customers, and spends at least an hour chatting with the diners each day.
For Tang’s boss, Patrick Yu, assistant director of food and beverage at the Marriott, taking on such a young head chef was a gamble, but it has paid off.
“The business has improved since he came here,” Yu said, as Tang has reformed the restaurant’s traditional Chinese dishes with western elements and cooked with flexibility to ensure customers get what they want.
Yu said more groups of young diners have come to the restaurant because of Tang’s reputation.
He said the two executive chefs before Tang who, despite their wealth of experience, left the restaurant in a bad position after each spending just a year or so in the job, as they had very strong personal styles in cooking and were not willing to adapt to the tastes of loyal diners.