There’s nothing like working your way up from scratch, as Chef Ken knows only too well. From humble beginnings as a kitchen helper in the southern Chinese city of Shenzen, to executive chef at the Shang Palace Chinese restaurant in Dubai’s renowned Shangri La Hotel, he has spent over 20 years honing his craft. Currently one of the city’s leading authorities on Chinese cuisine, he spoke to James Brennan about MSG, kitchen calamities and the size of his chopper.
Who taught you to cook?
I had the privilege of working under very good Chinese executive chefs (four of them) from my first job as a commis chef in Hong Kong back in 1986.
How different is the food in China to the Chinese food in Dubai?
Not too different, it’s just that some ingredients are not easy to source here in Dubai. Some make do with products that are not originally from China. For example, chicken meat that is not as tender compared to China.
Is Chinese food authentic here?
In Shang Palace, we keep to the authenticity of the dishes. If you’re talking about Chinese food in Dubai, as long as you use the right (authentic) ingredients and it is cooked using the correct methods, then it is authentic.
Do you have to change your traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes?
Not so much on the recipes, but there are minimal changes on the cooking style to suit the local taste. Not all menus involve that, however, as we are mainly focused on the traditional Chinese cooking.
Apart from Shang Palace, what’s your favourite Chinese restaurant in Dubai?
For the ambience, I prefer Zheng He’s restaurant in Madinat Jumeira. I’m quackers about Beijing duck because…
…it is a traditional, historic and popular cuisine in China. This dish is so special that the selection of duck must be no older than 180 days to maintain the tenderness and freshness of meat.
Why is MSG used in Chinese food? Do you use it?
It’s a practice handed down through generations hence it’s tradition. We never use MSG in Shang Palace kitchen.
How big is your big chopper?
Great question! Chopper – weight approximately 1,000 grams.
What’s your favourite fast food?
I have nothing. In this day and age we need to look after our bodies. There is plenty of produce in Dubai and there’s so much healthy food to choose from. This is probably why I’ve stayed slim.
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in your kitchen?
Once, during preparation of pancakes for the Beijing Duck, we had seven to eight staff working on the pancakes. In the end, each of the staff produced different sizes of pancake. So, everyone had to do it all again!
Shang Palace, Shangri La Hotel (04 343 8888).