Nelson Zou Yi-feng
Why did you come to work in Hong Kong? 'It was a Hyatt corporate decision [Zou was working at the Hyatt Regency in Dongguan, Guangdong province] but the management team was very democratic - they asked if I would be interested in moving to Hong Kong. My goal is to learn the Hong Kong working culture: efficiency, management skills and the ability to handle challenges. So far, the hardest task is finding ingredients to prepare Dongguan dishes. I end up importing a large quantity of ingredients.'
How did your father inspire you professionally? 'He was a butcher [specialising in] pork. His part-time job was cooking village-style banquets at festive occasions. When I was a kid, my father would take me and my brothers and sisters to different villages to watch him cook these banquets. The idea of cooking for others became appealing to me.'
What is your cooking philosophy? 'I constantly think from the customers' point of view when conjuring up dishes. To me, food is good or bad - the ultimate distinction lies in using the freshest seasonal ingredients available. My golden rule to creating a good dish starts with searching for the perfect ingredients. [I use] as little seasoning as possible to keep the original flavours and serve the dish while it is piping hot. I'm not a fan of MSG [monosodium glutamate] because of health issues from consuming excessive amounts. My food has no MSG, chicken powder or artificial colourings. For example, my double-boiled pork consomme with tangerine peel has only three ingredients: water, pork and [dried] tangerine peel, plus a pinch of salt. But the tangerine peel is of the finest quality - at least 40 years old.'
What's the biggest kitchen crisis you've had to deal with? 'When I was working at the Dongguan Sofitel, there was an important dinner reception for our nation's heads of state. I discovered that the river fish that we were supposed to be using for a dish on the banquet menu were all dead and we didn't have time to order another shipment. Luckily, the hotel had a privately owned fish pond in the vicinity. My team rushed down to catch the fish we needed. Since they were really fresh, we persuaded our manager to replace the original dish with a serving of steamed spicy big fish head as the main course. We were praised by the VIP guests for this 'local delicacy'.'
What is most challenging aspect of managing four show kitchens? 'The advantage of a show kitchen is that diners can see the food preparation - it's a visual delight. But managing them - especially four simultaneously - is a physically and mentally demanding task. The kitchens are separated from each other so I must walk back and forth repeatedly to check the progress. Neatness and manners are imperative for line cooks. Besides the [culinary] training, they must be well behaved, tidy, hygienic and able to work under pressure.'
What other cuisines interest you? 'Japanese, because Japanese chefs have the utmost respect for their profession and the patience to keep refining their craftsmanship. Japanese chefs can bring out the essence and fresh taste of their ingredients. I am particularly impressed by their knowledge when selecting fish and seafood.'