Mok Kit Keung is a chef that executives call up to restore a restaurant’s Michelin-star rating. The 54-year-old returned to Hong Kong in 2011, after a 20-year stint in Singapore, intending to impart his considerable experience to a new generation of chefs.
Instead, the man who had clinched numerous awards from the Restaurant Association of Singapore, and cooked for Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was asked by the former general manager of Kowloon Shangri-la to help Shang Palace, the hotel’s flagship Cantonese restaurant, to regain the star it lost a year before.
The former Marina Bay Sands’ chef de cuisine pulled it off, a few months into his role as Shang Palace’s executive chef in 2011; it has maintained the two-star rating since. Now, he has been deployed to oversee Shangri-la Singapore’s Shang Palace, currently starless, with an eye to carry out the same feat. Says the Mandarin-speaking chef: “We’ve been getting two stars for seven years (at Shang Palace in Hong Kong). Let’s see if we can do the same here.”
His knack for creating refined, innovative dishes will serve him well. He has introduced to Shang Palace here wok-fried French quail and braised South African abalone with foie gras. Recently, he showcased bird’s nest savoury potential in the form of deep-fried rice balls with seafood and bird’s nest, and bamboo fungus stuffed with bird’s nest.
He says he feels no pressure, despite the expectation. “I’m used it. The most important thing is how guests feel – I want them to be happy when they dine at Shang Palace,” he says. By his own admission, he is not motivated so much by star chasing as he is by educating the next generation of chefs.
“GUESTS CAN TELL WHO HAS COOKED WHICH DISH FROM THE WOK HEI.”
“When I retire, who will continue my culinary knowledge?” he explains. And that knowledge is both substantial and extensive. He worked his way up from being a dishwasher at his uncle’s restaurant at the age of 13 to head chef at three restaurants in his 20s. He declares: “There’s nothing I haven’t experienced.”
He intends to take a more structured, hands-on approach to training new chefs. While he learnt by watching masters at work, without formal guidance, he pushes his cooks to execute a dish until they get it right. “Practice with the wok will help them to tell by instinct when the fire needs to be smaller or bigger,” he says.
Mok is continually learning too, when working alongside Western chefs. “I noticed their precise control of time and temperature with their dishes. I use salamander ovens now because they help with temperature control – something that can’t be achieved consistently with traditional Chinese ovens.” He has also turned to pan-frying ingredients such as bee hoon, lamb racks and scallops as the technique allows for more control. The items are later transferred to a wok for wok hei.
Says Mok of his learning process: “These are things we can apply to our own cuisine and bring it to its fullest potential. Before I retire, I want to share this knowledge with other Cantonese chefs.”