Kitchen magic

Chris Lau

One young Hong Kong cook gets a taste of culinary mastery and some recipe secrets from two top chefs on her prize-winning trip to Beijing

Chris Lau |

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Karina enjoys a meal with veteran chef Yang Zhizhi at the Zhongguancun Institute in Beijing.
All the cut-throat cook-offs and terrifying mystery box challenges were over. Now Karina Yuen Ka-hei - the first runner-up of last year's Young Post-Towngas Young Master Chef contest - was finally taking her culinary quest north ... to Beijing.

Karina's prize was a three-day cooking trip to the capital so last week the 17-year-old flew north to start her training.

She barely had time to get acclimatised to the cold before she was whisked off for her exclusive cooking class at the Zhongguancun Institute, a branch of the acclaimed Beijing Tanrenmeish cooking school.

Well rugged-up against the bitter cold and snow, Karina strolled into a narrow hutong and up to the school, where master - or shifu - Yang Zhizhi was waiting for her.

Although he's a native Beijinger, Chef Yang wanted to pass on some long-lost Cantonese recipes to the Hong Kong girl. He chose a main course of sweet and sour fish, deep-fried shredded carrot and garlic sprouts, and chicken "snowflakes", followed by a dessert of rose cakes and purple sweet potato buns.

"You ask a lot of Cantonese people these days and they don't even know how to make these dishes anymore," Yang said.

He decided to teach Karina how to cook these dishes so she could bring them back to the city and share them with her friends. He did not want the recipes to vanish.

"A lot of famed chefs refuse to give secret recipes to their students, fearing they will cook better than them," he said. "I want to do the exact opposite. I want traditional dishes to be passed down from generation to generation."

Yang, now 69, started cooking when he was 16. As a young man, he kick-started his career cooking Cantonese dishes before switching to the glamorous Chinese royal banquet dishes which make up the Manchu Han Imperial Feast. He was once a private chef to a Chinese official.

Now a restaurant consultant, he is famous nationwide and judges many cooking contests in different provinces. "I have never seen anyone who deep-fries food like this before," Karina said, referring to a special way Yang reduced the oiliness of his fish.

The master soaked the fish slices in a bowl of beaten egg white, and coated them with a sprinkling of corn starch. This produced deep-fried fish that was tender yet crunchy.

At the end of the day-long cooking class, Yang told Karina his golden rule of the kitchen.

"Never waste food. It is disrespectful to those who produce it and put in so much effort to grow the food that we're eating," he said, while consuming the last morsel of the deep-fried fish.

The veteran chef also told his new student she must "remember the taste so that you can replicate the dish and pass it on to the next person".

Karina gets some top tips from executive chef Chow Ngai of Cuisine Cuisine in Beijing.

After this experience, Karina visited one of Beijing's most popular new restaurants, Cuisine Cuisine, where she met executive chef Chow Ngai. This was where the amateur chef learned how a professional kitchen works, watching each dish being cooked and plated up in minutes.

It was Karina's second visit to Beijing, and she was very much looking forward to the food. In fact, she had Beijing's iconic Peking roast duck two nights in a row.

"It was a very enjoyable trip," she said. "I've learned so much, and I have gained some cooking skills I had never even heard of before."

See footage of Karina's trip to Beijing below.