RIYADH:Chef ArChan Chan’s story is one that could inspire many an aspiring cook. By her own admission, Chan had “no idea about cooking,” when she started her career, but she is now executive chef of the Cantonese restaurant Ho Lee Fook in Hong Kong.
“In many Asian countries, like Hong Kong — where I grew up, cooking is not really (considered) a profession. I was a foodie who loves eating and I knew that I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” Chan told Arab News. “So, when I went to university, I asked my lecturer if there were any food-related subjects I could take. He told me the university offered a catering course, so that’s how I first got into the industry, but also through tourism and hotels. That’s how I began working in kitchens.”
Earlier this month, Chan was in Riyadh, where her restaurant has launched a pop-up eatery in Riyadh Season’s Al-Murabaa food zone. Here, she discusses the versatility of spring onions and avoiding a ‘military-like’ kitchen atmosphere, and provides a recipe for chicken wings.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
If you’re planning to cook meat — any meat — soak it in four percent brine. It adds a lot of flavor and tenderness. You can do that before any method of cooking; it’s a very simple way to make things tasty.
What’s the one ingredient you believe can improve any dish?
I love spring onion or scallion. It’s an ingredient that works with a lot of dishes. It adds texture and flavor to something as simple as steamed fish. You pour hot oil on and some spring onion on it. It just releases those flavors, especially if you add a bit of soya sauce and a bit of salt and sugar. It’s delicious. You can even add it to instant noodles.
What customer request most annoys you?
It doesn’t necessarily annoy me, but it can be difficult when someone asks to modify a dish. We understand that people have different needs, of course; sometimes there is a dietary requirement. But it’s definitely challenging to deal with people who don’t want garlic, or spring onion, or some other ingredient that we use a lot. We can accommodate those requests, but we know the dish will taste different.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
I love anything that’s cooked in a wok. It’s just really, really satisfying — the fire and the smell of the smoke. It's always sizzling. So, anything that I can cook with a wok, especially wok fry, is great.
As a head chef, are you quite calm and laidback? Or are you a strict disciplinarian?
I spent some time in old-school kitchens, where the head chef would be, like, yelling — very military-like. But I’ve also spent some time in kitchens where it was a little bit more like: You can’t yell at someone; you can't use fear. Personally, I like to guide (my staff). My rules are things like: I need honesty. I need care. I need respect. These are things that people working together need to agree on. That’s a very basic thing to do as a human being. And once you agree, there's a lot of opportunity.
It's OK to make mistakes. But I urge them to ask questions. So, there's a lot of guidance, and then a lot of challenging, like, “Why have you done this? What goes through your mind when choosing this method?”
RECIPE: Chef ArChan’s Chongqing chicken wings
1kg chicken wings
1 packet potato starch
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 stalk spring onion, cut into 4cm lengths
50g dried chilli
1 tbsp of ground spices (cumin, five spice, or spice mix)
1. Add the salt to the water and stir until salt is dissolved, giving you a 4% salt solution.
2. Lightly coat chicken wings in potato starch.
3. Deep fry chicken wings at 180C for six minutes, or pan fry for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
4. Season the wings with some salt and your favorite ground spices.
5. Sauté the garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and spring onion in a pan on high heat.
6. Add a tablespoon of water and the dried chilli. Sauté until fragrant.
7. Add the fried chicken wings to the pan. Toss for 15 seconds to absorb all the flavors. Serve.