“The food I ate at home was very simple. My mother made soup and dishes like soy sauce chicken. They were delicious, and just thinking about the soy sauce chicken made me want to eat it.” When did you know you wanted to be a chef? “I got interested in cooking a bit late, when I was around 26 years old, but when I was a child I didn’t get good grades, so I went into the restaurant industry. I was 15 years old when my friend got me a job in a restaurant – he was working in the kitchen. It was long hours, 9am to 11pm or 11.30pm. We had a two-hour lunch break and went home at 1am. “I needed to arrive early to work so I left home at 8am from Kwun Tong [in Kowloon]. There was no MTR then so there were traffic jams in the mornings, and it took me 90 minutes to get home from Central or Causeway Bay [on Hong Kong Island] because there weren’t as many buses.” What was your first job like? “In Causeway Bay, I worked as an apprentice at a Cantonese restaurant, where I cracked eggs, and made sauces for dishes like sweet and sour pork or curry sauce for Singapore fried noodles. If we forgot to add ingredients or did something wrong, the chefs got mad at us and told us off. We had to stand for such long hours that my legs would shake. “After about four months, I was promoted to washing vegetables and butchering fish, eel and frogs.” What was that like? “Butchering eel was hard because you had to cut the head off first and then fillet it, but the body kept moving. At first I wasn’t scared – I don’t know why – but, after about a year or so, I started feeling sorry for butchering them. “When you chopped the head off a frog, it made a sound each time. At first you don’t feel anything because you don’t have much experience, but after about a year or so, one day, I just thought it was terrible. One time I had to butcher a fish and I covered its eyes. Luckily, I got to move to the stir-fry section after that, which didn’t involve knives.” When did you start thinking of new dishes? “In 2010, when I started working at Nanhai No 1 at iSquare [in Tsim Sha Tsui]. It’s not a banquet hall, nor is it a typical Chinese restaurant – it had a very Western decor. I was the number two chef and I would talk to the head chef about dishes and think of a way to make them not too traditional, to complement the decor. Fusion can be hard to create because it has to taste good; you may like to eat it, but others might not and may criticise you. “I was there for a year and then went to Cuisine Cuisine, at The Mira Hong Kong, for four years. The decor there is also very contemporary, not Chinese, so the menu was quite fusion as well. I spent a lot of time on the presentation of the dish, which took the focus away from the taste. Nevertheless, I got to think of some new dishes.” What was it like working at Man Wah in the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong? “I worked there in 2015, when the decor had Chinese lanterns [ before the recent renovation ]. Here, the menu was traditional Chinese food and I had to change my mindset and style of cooking. I got comments from diners who wanted me to keep the traditional flavours and not be so fussed about the presentation.” How have you set the style at Rùn? “Three years later, I opened this restaurant in The St Regis Hong Kong [in Wan Chai]. Here, it’s my restaurant so it was a blank slate. There is no way to compare it to what it was like before, so I don’t get those kinds of comments from guests. I also have more experience. “For me, the flavour and temperature of the dishes are the most important parts. I don’t want the food to be cold by the time it arrives at the table. I want it to arrive hot, even though I know customers will take a few minutes to take pictures before they eat it – that I can’t control. “I put more focus on the presentation of the appetisers because they can be served cold or warm. For the other dishes, I only do a very simple plating because I don’t want to waste time putting the dish together. There are dishes like chopped chicken that must be placed back together like a whole one because that is the traditional presentation, and steamed whole fish, which you cannot change.” What dishes do you like to eat? “I like soup, even though I don’t have it every day. I also like seafood, like stir-fried fish fillets, prawns and lobster. I like the natural sweetness from these ingredients. When I was younger I liked steak, but as I get older, I find meat is not as easy to digest so I don’t eat it as much nowadays. “Stir-fries are fast, easy and the food comes out hot, like my dish of wok-fried Australian scallops with Chinese yam, wood-ear fungus and celtuce [Chinese lettuce], or wok-fried crab claw with dried shrimp and layered bean curd sheets.” What are you up to at the moment? “These days, because of the pandemic I am thinking of more dishes that use local ingredients. I have been cooking ingredients like Spanish pork and Japanese scallops, but now the supply can be inconsistent so it is better to go local. On my days off, I check out what is in the wet markets. “I need to think of new dishes because I can’t just stop and do nothing. I try to control what I can do and there are limitations to just using local ingredients, but it’s good to experiment.” Do you cook for your family? “I have two children, 14 and 10 years old. We live near my mother-in-law and often go over to her place to eat. Sometimes, I make one or two dishes to cheer her up. My older son always hears me talk about cooking and this year he started to show an interest in it and wanted me to teach him how to cook simple things like eggs and instant noodles, but he has yet to actually try.” Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .