“In high school, I took home economics and I really liked the class because I like to cook and bake. My family is in the food business, as a seafood supplier. “When I graduated from high school, I really wanted to pursue pastry and studied at the Vocational Training Council. My parents didn’t want me to go into this field because it’s a tough industry but I wanted to try.” Where was your first job? “As soon as I graduated, in 2008, at the age of 18, I started working at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon , in Central on Hong Kong Island. It was really hard because the chef was Tadashi Nakamura and he micromanaged everything; he was very strict, with very high standards, but I stayed for two years. I thought the opportunity to be there mattered more than the tough working conditions. “I learned the basics of baking but also attitude, organisation, timing, meeting his standards. I had to concentrate every minute, otherwise things might not work out and I’d have to make the dessert all over again. “Every day was stressful. If we made mistakes, chef Tadashi would get mad and tell us to go home. Some of the young female chefs cried and left. I cried, too, but returned to work. He saw that I could take it. I never thought of resigning because I liked the work and didn’t want to give up so easily.” Where did you go afterwards? “A colleague joined the pre-opening team for the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong , and I followed. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is a fine-dining restaurant with a very high standard, whereas a hotel has room service, restaurants, buffet and afternoon tea, so I wanted to join a big team and try this. “I was around 20 years old at the time.” ‘The fridge is filled with jars like a laboratory’: a chef’s Nordic journey What was it like working there? “When the hotel opened, singer Coco Lee got married there and invited her local and international celebrity friends. We had over 10 people doing all the plated desserts and petits fours. Everyone in all the kitchens worked together on this banquet and I learned the importance of teamwork, organisation and flexibility. “For 1½ years I worked in banqueting, at Tosca, and afternoon tea at Chocolate Library. There wasn’t one particular thing I liked doing, I just thought I should absorb everything. At Chocolate Library I learned about different kinds of chocolate and how to use them, and at Tosca we made gelato and decorations. It was all different because we had so many events in the hotel. Then I went to The Peninsula Hong Kong.” I kept thinking about the techniques and flavours. The French are the most advanced in the latest techniques Mandy Siu Yuen-sang Where did you learn to create plated desserts? “At The Peninsula, I worked at Gaddi’s with executive pastry chef Ludovic Douteau. It was my first time working under a French pastry chef. Ludovic liked to teach. He previously worked at Caprice as pastry chef so he was very experienced in plated desserts. “Gradually, I learned how to design a dessert using different textures and tastes, with a sauce and finished with gold leaf or lemon zest. “With desserts, it’s about following the seasons and using the best ingredients at that time. In winter it’s chestnut and quince, autumn is apple and pear, while in summer it’s strawberries, cherries and melon. “I used the freshest fruits, or fruit purée. We didn’t even make preserves because we wanted diners to eat fruits at their prime.” Why did you go to London in 2016? “After four years at Gaddi’s, eight years of work experience in total, at the age of 27, I decided to go to London for a year. It was easier to go there than Paris – I didn’t speak French. “I wanted to go to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park to see how they put together their afternoon tea, but ended up working at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the hotel. It was very English, the food was very delicious, and the standard was very high. I also worked in other cake shops in the city.” What did you do after you returned? “A friend told me about a job at Junon, in Wan Chai, opened by singer Hins Cheung King-hin. Chef Bruno Menard, who has had three Michelin stars, was our culinary director and came to Hong Kong from Singapore once a month. He’s very experienced and likes to teach; he’s like a dad who encouraged and praised us, making us want to improve.” Why head chef at The Peninsula Hong Kong takes cooking lessons on holiday How did you change your style of desserts? “In 2019, I went to L’Envol , in the St Regis Hong Kong. I had never met chef Olivier Elzer before. We had both worked at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at different times. From the beginning, the target was to get a Michelin star, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ “I worked there for over two years [L’Envol earned its first Michelin star in 2020 and a second one in 2021]. “I like to eat, and in particular sweet things. Before I worked at Junon, I travelled to France every year. I went to different cake shops to try the desserts. The second and third times I went to France I started going to restaurants, to experience fine dining. I would wonder, ‘Why does it have this taste? Can I reproduce that?’ “It opened my mind, and I kept thinking about the techniques and flavours. The French are the most advanced in the latest techniques. “My palate is more on the sour side so my desserts are tart. At L’Envol, I started with very French, very creamy and very chocolatey desserts that were very indulgent. Olivier likes the classic way of cooking sauces and ingredients, so the food tastes very rich, and the flavours are intense. By the time the dessert arrives,the guests are full and stop eating. “Then I started using more seasonal fruit, more acidity from lemon, lime, green apple, bergamot, yuzu, and the guests finished the desserts because they were refreshing.” Did you always want to open a cake shop? “Before the pandemic I never thought of it; I was still interested in working in hotels and restaurants. But when Covid-19 dragged into its second year , I wondered if I could go on my own. Some friends supported me and I asked for advice from pastry chefs I respected. ‘It made a sound each time’: chef who felt terrible butchering frogs “I launched the online shop in December. It’s called Finessence, which means the finest ingredients combined with the essence of putting my elements in the desserts. “My first product was the galette des rois . I made it last year at L’Envol and our French guests liked it. This year I made it using puff pastry with almond cream and had to fill orders three times. I also have a corporate business where I work with hotels to give them more refined products.” What ingredients do you like to work with? “My desserts feature fruits I like to eat, like hyuganatsu [Japanese citrus fruit], yuzu, mandarin, cherries. I like to eat dragon fruit, but kirin fruit has a clean sweetness to it so I’ve made a sorbet with that, and then diced the fruit and put it in a bubble of blown sugar with light espuma . It’s great as a summer dessert with coulis and sorbet.