The Langham Hong Kong’s T’ang Court restaurant has retained its three Michelin-star rating for the sixth consecutive year. Chinese master chef Kwong Wai Keung tells Carolynne Dear how he’s stayed at the top of his game for 35 years.
T'ang Court's Chinese master chef, Kwong Wai Keung (right), with executive chef Wong Chi Fai.
“At age 13 I stopped going to school. Instead, I joined an apprenticeship. There wasn’t much choice at the time, so I opted for a chef apprentice because the pay was decent and being able to cook was viewed as a professional skill set. I started out at a Cantonese restaurant in Central.
As a child I loved mango. Imported mangoes were very expensive at that time in Hong Kong, not every family could afford them. I begged my mother for a long time and eventually she gave-in and bought me one. I was nine years old and I can still remember how sweet and aromatic it was. I gobbled it down quickly in one go. Food has always been a major motivator for me.
I’m not particularly smart but I am hard-working. I firmly believe that hard work can make up for a lack of talent. It normally takes an apprentice around ten years to be promoted to a junior chef, but it took me just six years to get there.
The master chef from that first Cantonese restaurant recognised that I had talent. He didn’t teach me to cook, but he gave me opportunities to handle more advanced cooking procedures and inspired me to be a better person. He taught me the importance of integrity in cooking.
Good food was a reward after a hard day’s work in the kitchen. It was important for me to try different kinds of food and to discover creative and quality ingredients to create new dishes for my guests. Praise motivated me to go one better next time.
T'ang Court first opened at The Langham, Hong Kong in 1988.
I joined T’ang Court as assistant sous chef when it opened in 1988. The senior chefs in the kitchen wouldn’t teach you to cook step-by-step. Instead, you learnt by observing them and by trial and error. It takes hard-work to practise the cooking skills until you can master them well.
Chefs spend more time with their team than their own families. We work very long hours. As master chef, my relationship with my assistant chef is important. Executive chef Wong Chi-fai has been working at T’ang Court since 2001. He started as a No. 3 steamer, a junior chef overlooking the steamers. We’ve been working together on-and-off for more than 16 years. I treat him like my son. When we were younger, we used to head out to different restaurants for a late supper after work. We were keen to try new dishes and create new menus for T’ang Court.
I’m grateful to Chi-fai that I can pass on my knowledge and preserve the traditional craft of Cantonese cooking. It’s not easy to find a right-hand man with the talent and determination to inherit traditional Cantonese cooking skills.
Baked stuffed crab shell with crab meat, onion and cream sauce is one of the most popular dishes on our menu. The crab shell is stuffed with meat from four to five crabs and unlike baked stuffed crab shell in other restaurants, guests get a mouthful of crab meat with every bite. When I’m putting together a menu for T’ang Court I always try to reflect on any criticism and make reasonable adjustments. But after 50 years as a professional chef, I can master a dish fairly well. Well-sourced seasonal ingredients are key.
I love seafood dishes. Seafood is healthy and has great flavours. My favourite is our stir-fried lobster with spring onions, red onions and shallots. It won Hong Kong Tourism Board’s ‘Best of the Best Culinary Awards’ in 2002.
I try not to let T’ang Court’s three Michelin star status stress me. My philosophy is to cook whole-heartedly and maintain the integrity of the ingredients. I focus my energies on enhancing my creativity instead. We always do our best as a team and are always open to constructive criticism; it helps us improve.
Speciality dim sum to celebrate Chinese New Year.
The Langham Hospitality Group takes Chinese cuisine very seriously. I’m grateful we’re given a generous degree of autonomy. The management shows great respect and trust. The wonderful and loyal restaurant team is a key reason I’ve been here so long. A number of my co-workers have worked here for more than twenty years.
This Chinese New Year was special because I was on leave for the first time in more than 50 years. I looked forward to spending the festival with my family. I don’t usually cook at home unless my children specifically request something as I like to use my time off to rest. I didn't know what to expect but for sure I knew it would be the most memorable Chinese New Year I’ve had."
T’ang Court, The Langham, 1/F & 2/F, 8 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, bookings at email@example.com.