Chan Wing Kwong loves playing with fire, but he is a pyromaniac of a different sort.
The 60-year-old is known for his prowess with wok hei, the elusive but essential smoky flavour in all stir-fried Chinese dishes, which he masters by wielding the flames as the executive chef of upscale Cantonese restaurant Yan Ting.
“Wok hei is all about understanding how to use fire to bring out the best in a dish,” he said. “Fire works differently with different ingredients. It affects not just the taste, but also the colour and smell of a dish, so it take many years to understand and fully grasp the technique behind it.”
The Hong Kong-born chef certainly has the pedigree. Chan started cooking as a 10 years old because both his parents had full time jobs, and has since built up over three decades worth of experience in prestigious Chinese restaurants all over Hong Kong and Singapore. Previously, he was the head chef at one Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace.
When Chan joined Yan Ting last year, he introduced over 30 traditional Cantonese dishes to the restaurant’s menu, including his signature Stir-fried Beef Tenderloin with Sliced Garlic, which shows off his deftness with wok hei. “It takes skilful tossing to seal the deep smokiness in the lean and succulent beef cubes,” he said.
While Yan Ting’s dishes are resolutely classical, Chan has updated them to suit the modern consumer. “Diners today appreciate authenticity,” he said. “However, they also have a sense of adventure when it comes to food, so they are usually looking for dishes that marry the traditional characteristics of the dish with a touch of modernity, whether it’s through ingredients or presentation.”
Steamed Hong Kong-style Marble Goby ‘Soon Hock,’ for instance, replaces Chinese sesame oil with the more fragrant Japanese sesame oil. Peking duck arrives with a side of foie gras. Meant to be eaten with the wrap, the delicacy lends richness to the smoky meat, fresh condiments, and sweet sauce.
According to Chan, these changes have proven popular with Yan Ting’s diners. More crucially, it helps the restaurant stay relevant in Singapore’s fast-paced dining landscape.
“Having worked at some of the most iconic Chinese restaurants across Singapore and Hong Kong, one of my key takeaways is that we must never stop learning,” he said. “There is a Chinese proverb “活到老，学到老” (it is never too old to learn). I think that is a very important mantra for us as chefs, because the world of dining is always evolving and so are our guests’ preferences.”
“While preserving tradition is of utmost importance, we must always be willing to step out of the norm to look at how we can further elevate the experience through sound culinary techniques that allows the essence of traditional Cantonese cuisine to shine,” he added.
Yan Ting is located at 29 Tanglin Road, The St. Regis Singapore, Level 1U, 247912. Book here.
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