Why does Hong Kong’s culinary heritage matter?

By Jade Li, Chinese University of Hong Kong

An interview with Kenneth Yuen, a renowned local chef

By Jade Li, Chinese University of Hong Kong |

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Jade Li Pui-ying, of The Chinese University of Hong Kong is the second runner-up of the programme.

Sixty students participating in the Sino Junior Reporter Programme 2016 attended a workshop at Tsim Sha Tsui Centre on June 25.

Co-organised by Young Post of the South China Morning Post and the Sino Group, the programme had shortlisted the students based on articles they had previously written about traditional local food they loved. In the workshop, students learnt about techniques for writing like a journalist and then did an interview with Kenneth Yuen, executive chef at The Royal Pacific Hotel & Towers, so as to explore Hong Kong’s culinary heritage.

Yuen was the first Chinese to become the executive sous chef at a five-star hotel in Hong Kong. He started as a trainee at the Mandarin Hotel and was promoted to the role of executive chef at The Royal Pacific Hotel & Towers in 2010. His passion for food never faded throughout the 30 years of his career, but he found that hard work is definitely the key to success.

For six consecutive years, he did not have a single day off, as he was at work six days a week and was studying on the seventh. When Yuen realised his weakness in English and lack of all-round experience working at the Furama Hotel, he took a higher diploma course in hotel management at Hong Kong Polytechnic. “When I look back, it was worth it,” he says. “I learnt management skills, also about finance, sales and marketing, things which I never had a chance to learn before. My communication skills improved too, which was highly influential in terms of my behaviour at work.”

In the workshop, students were given a chance to taste a box of traditional Hong Kong food prepared by The Royal Pacific Hotel & Towers. Yuen described them as our “childhood food”. When asked how we should promote and pass on the traditional culinary culture in Hong Kong, Yuen said it was up to every one of us. “We should do it together and let people know.” He believed that the Hong Kong-style egg puff was very special, similar but different to the waffles found in the western countries. He hoped that one day it could be widely known to foreigners just like moon cakes already are.

Working in the kitchen is definitely tough, especially in Hong Kong. With less and less youngsters entering the catering industry, many people are worried about maintaining Hong Kong’s culinary culture. To keep it alive, Yuen suggested more sharing of recipes. Restaurants could also do more to promote traditional local food, so that traditional dishes would not fade away.

“Food stirs up our memories,” Yuen said, smiling blissfully as he told the story behind his favourite traditional food – steamed white sugar sponge cake. “It is not how expensive food is that matters most, but the satisfaction it gives us.” Perhaps that is why Hong Kong people are now trying so hard to protect our unique culinary culture, at the same time safeguarding their treasured collective memories.