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    Chef Tam Kwok-fung at Wing Lei Palace: Macau’s Iconic Figure in Culinary Scene

    With the current new wave in global culinary scene, traditional Chinese cuisine is also absorbing elements around the world. Executive Chef Tam Kwok-fung at Wing Lei Palace Macau is leading Cantonese cuisine into a new sphere with a plethora of Chinese and Western elements. Twenty years of overseas working experience has laid a solid foundation.He believes that a good dish must be reasonably balanced and suitable.

    The last time that I visited Wing Lei Palace was before last Chinese New Year. This time, Chef Tam has reduced the proportion of red meat which is more commonly used in Chinese cuisine in the design of the menu. The platter at the beginning was already enchanting. The Poached Fresh Squid in Mustard Sauce was fresh and appetizing; the Wok-fried Clams Served with Fresh Lettuce saw the grassy spring chives dancing with sweet, umami clams. The Wok-fried Eel Maw with Eggs used a classic scrambling technique to handle the eggs, with small golden egg pieces resembling osmanthus flowers. The scrambled eggs can be served with different ingredients, such as shark’s fin, fish maw and dried scallops. The Dried Fish Maw dish used pike conger maw, which is a relatively more expensive ingredient than what the traditional version would use. This kind of conger maw is sold for several thousand yuan per 500g, and there is only one maw in a pike conger.When asked about whether there is a secret to his magical cooking, Chef Tam shared, “It’s about bringing out the original flavour of the ingredients. Do not focus on the seasoning; focus on the overall effect. In addition to the degree of soaking and the speed of scrambling, even the number of eggs need to be exactly correct.” Full of power and fragrance, the dishes were deliciously inviting right from the start.

    Poached Fresh Squid in Mustard Sauce/

    Wok-fried Eel Maw with Eggs/

    Wok-fried Clams Served with Fresh Lettuce

    The Braised Watercress Broth with Shredded Fish Maw and Crab Meat was intensely exuberant of seafood umami. Chef Tam said that 20% of his creations take inspiration from classic Cantonese cuisine. For instance, the watercress broth is derived from Cantonese vegetable broth, which also includes Chaozhou-style sweet potato leaves broth and Cantonese-style spinach broth. The ingredients are all locally sourced, and the watercress is also a seasonal delight at this time of the year. The fish maw was soaked to perfection and cooked in a soup stock until soft-tender before being added to the broth.

    Braised Watercress Broth with Shredded Fish Maw and Crab Meat/

    Seasonal Local Market Seafood

    Chef Tam got the tiger grouper from the market specially for our dinner.The tiger grouper was flavoured with chicken oil, scallion and ginger, steamed with egg white and served with Iberico ham for a savoury, charming note.Chef Tam mostly goes to the fish market in the afternoon when some fishermen deliver newly harvested goods to the market. Yangnan from Guangzhou describes Chef Tam as “Jiro Ono in Macau”. In Tokyo, Jiro can get the best fish goods, and in Macau suppliers give theirs to Chef Tam, who has been in Macau for 16 years and has built very good relationships with the local suppliers. Chef Tam shared that because he is familiar with the local market and the suppliers are willing to give him the best of their goods. “It’s an excellent rapport,” said Chef Tam kindly.

    Wok-fried French Blue Lobster with Seasonal Vegetables/

    Roasted Pigeon with Truffles

    The Wok-fried French Blue Lobster with Seasonal Vegetables was impressive. Water chestnut, lotus root, snow beans and Sichuan baby mustard – a luscious combination of so many different vegetables instilled a sweet, crisp whiff of refreshment into the dish. The lobster was stir-fried using a Cantonese quick-fry technique, where it’s soaked in oil and stir-fried in a wok to retain its moisture and soft texture, and then flavoured to bring out its original sweetness. Chef Tam said, “Practice makes perfect.” But I have never tasted a Chinese lobster dish with such precise control of the heat. The pigeon was roasted to crispy on the outside and soft-tender inside. The freshly shaved black truffles elevated the whole dish without a hint of discord.

    My learning about Chinese cuisine still has a long way to go. Having never spent a New Year’s Eve in Guangdong before, I have to admit that this was my first time eating the festive dish of Braised Air-dried Meat and Pork Belly with Arrowhead at Wing Lei Palace. Chef Tam said that this is a traditional dish widely enjoyed by Cantonese people on their New Year’s Eve Dinner table.

    Braised Air-dried Meat and Pork Belly with Arrowhead

    For the Crispy Chicken Filled with Glutinous Rice, Chef Tam chose the Qingyuan chicken which is smaller in size. Glutinous rice is wrapped under paper-thin crispy chicken skin. It didn’t have the fatty layer in between, just skin on top, and glutinous rice underneath. It’s crispy, and not greasy at all. Chef Tam shared the secret of how to make the glutinous rice “not sticky” – the rice was fully soaked in water, steamed and stored in the fridge for a while to lower the gelatinous content within the rice. The dish came out as a crispy chicken dish, but it’s stuffed with glutinous rice.

    Crispy Chicken Filled with Glutinous Rice

    The dessert, Maotai Ice-cream with Imperial Bird’s Nest, was a multi-layered, creamy and yet chewy, attractive delight. Chef Tam mentioned that he wanted it to taste like Italian gelato, but meanwhile he also thinks that pear and Maotai (a luxury distilled Chinese liquor) are a perfect match. Therefore, Chef Tam incorporated chunks of iced pear and specially added the Moutai when the ice cream base was not completely cooled down, so that the temperature could evaporate some of the alcohol, retaining the mellow aroma of Moutai while keeping it not too strong. A luscious, indulgent dessert.

    Maotai Ice-cream with Imperial Bird’s Nest

    Talking with Chef Tam is always a pleasure. He talks about cooking with poise and confidence as if a Tai Chi master is practicing his movements. Some people can walk into a room and instantly put everyone at ease, and Chef Tam is one of them. He is widely acclaimed for his solid cooking techniques as well as for his gentle, friendly personality. It is no exaggeration to say that he is the iconic figure of Macau’s culinary scene.

     Tam Kwok-Fung, Executive Chef at Wing Lei Palace and writer Jocelyn Chen

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    Author:Jocelyn Chen

    Photo:Emily Yang

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