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Michelin-starred chef Vicky Cheng: eat to heal, enjoy the daily ritual of Hong Kong

Vicky Cheng

As one of the culinary capitals of the world, there are countless exquisite and sophisticated cuisines on offer in Hong Kong, and we are also home to delicious affordable eats. Vicky Cheng, executive chef of VEA Restaurant , was born in this dining destination. He studied French cuisine abroad and has followed some culinary masters to perfect his expertise. Cheng returned to Hong Kong 10 years ago. By using traditional Chinese dried seafood ingredients, including abalone, sea cucumber, and fish maw, he pioneered the innovative ‘Chinese x French’ cuisine and was awarded one Michelin star in 2016. Blending the finest Chinese and Western ingredients with craftsmanship, roasted sea cucumber and abalone pithivier are the signature dishes of VEA. What does this new generation Michelin-starred chef hold dear to his heart in terms of comfort food? Authentic neighbourhoood street bites. 

Whatever the budget, always dine with standards

“The best comfort food does not call for the finest ingredients, nor the hassle to book in advance,” Cheng explains. Pork liver porridge, beef offal with noodles, wonton noodles, roasted goose or braised goose, curry pork chops, rice rolls, ma lai go (steamed sponge cake), egg tarts and milk tea from classic cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong-style cafes) — these are Cheng’s special picks.

He goes to different restaurants for specific dishes. These restaurants are small and may look ordinary, but don’t underestimate the skill it takes and the amount of work behind these authentic dishes. "Hong Kong cuisine is very special. As long as a restaurant has a very good dish, people will keep coming back for it. These dishes are surprisingly inexpensive. When I try them at home, it wouldn’t cost less than for what they are sold. I just might as well dine out,” he adds.

He believes that one deserves to eat well as we work so hard every day; and to eat well, one has to stick to one’s expectations. Cheng will not compromise his standards even if it is just a bowl of wonton noodles. He will only choose the best.

Hong Kong’s cultural diversity as an edge

Thai beef noodle soup

Cheng’s favourite comfort foods represent delicacies from different parts of China and the world, including Cantonese, Chiu Chow and Thai dishes. His choices can be linked to his multicultural background and the role of food in his childhood experience. "My dad is from Chiu Chow and my mother is from Shanghai. We often had Shanghainese food at home," he explains. Both influences have a long and rich food tradition, complemented by Cantonese cuisine that is flourishing in Hong Kong. Cheng has cultivated a diversified palate since an early age. His food recommendation list also includes a Thai beef noodle soup, an influence from his Thai godmother.

sour cabbage fish

A highly diversified culinary scene is an integral part of local culture here — heritage preserved within a cosmopolitan context. Upon return to Hong Kong, having acquired some French culinary techniques and skills, he discovered what distinguishes him from Western chefs is that he was born and raised in Hong Kong. "I am not a foreigner cooking foreign food here. Instead this is my birthplace and this is where I grew up. I have been infused with knowledge of Chinese food since an early age,” This identity is also reflected in the dishes he creates, such as sour cabbage fish on the menu at VEA. The fish is pan-fried in the French style and the broth is made from home-made fermented cabbage. Striking a balance between hot and sour flavours and the fatty aroma of a ten-catty (5kg), local premium fish (ma yau), this mouth-watering dish is the best showcase of the cultural diversity of Hong Kong.

Chinese dried seafood is often regarded as nourishing for the body. At VEA, foreign visitors and local diners alike are invited to savour alternative flavours of abalone and fish maw. Cheng never received formal training in Chinese cuisine. When he first chose to develop the ‘Chinese x French’ approach, it was all built upon self-taught knowledge fuelled by his assiduous devotion to his studies. “No one did that [Chinese x French fusion] five years ago. [I believed that] if I work hard, it would be more likely that I would succeed. Looking back, it was a gamble, but everything was worth it,” he says.

Star-rated food recommendations:

  1. Shui Kee: beef offal with noodles (first photo)
    2 Gutzlaff Street, Central, Hong Kong Island 

  2. Mak's Noodle: wonton noodles
    G/F, 77 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong Island

  3. Law Fu Kee: pig’s kidney and liver congee
    G/F, Kimley Commercial Building, 144 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong Island

  4. Sam Tor: goose intestines and pork liver noodles, dace fish balls (second photo)
    G/F, 30 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong Island

  5. Yat Lok Roast Goose: goose back rice
    G/F, 34–38 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong Island

  6. Sun King Yuen Curry Restaurant: curry pork chop rice (third photo)
    G/F, 20 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island

  7. Lo Pak Restaurant: braised goose rice
    Shop C, 20 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island

  8. Kam Fung Cafe: milk tea, egg tart
    G/F, 41 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island

  9. Samsen: wagyu beef boat noodles
    68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island

  10. Tim Ho Wan: ma lai go (steamed sponge cake), rice roll
    G/F, 9–11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon

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