He's one of the first Chinese chefs to be awarded Michelin stars in Asia, and in Hong Kong, his restaurant is the place to go for good Cantonese food with some rather surprising influences. Pauline D. Loh pays a visit.
Thirty-five years in the kitchen and stints at some of the best hotels in Singapore is a winning combination for Mok Kit Keung. Working in a country known for its unusually large proportion of gourmets, gourmands and just good food lovers gives the chef an unusual advantage. His classic Cantonese dishes have that added element of texture and crunch, the extra touch of subtle herbs and some unique creations - witness a savory-sweet mousse made of black garlic. The same element surfaces when he garnishes a deep-fried grouper and foie gras with black-garlic chips.
And now, back in Hong Kong at the Shang Palace in the Kowloon Shangri-La, he has won recognition by no less than the Michelin gods.
Michelin chef Mok Kit Keung (middle) presents a unique menu of creative dishes such as crab and vermicelli (top) and tomato fish maw broth (above). Photos by Pauline D. Loh
Make no mistake, the chef is very grounded in traditional Cantonese, and his forays into fusion still sticks strictly to the tried and tested.
We are served an amuse bouche of century-egg wedges, soft at the center with jellied whites glistening with signature snowflake crystals. What makes it different is what arrives with it - a little platter of crisp pink pickled ginger slices and wasabi-flavored black cloud-ear mushrooms.
It is a brilliant marriage of contrasting color, texture and taste that earned nods of approval from the guests, including venerable Hong Kong food critic Willie Mark and Dagong Bao's health editor Choi Suk-fun.
It was, however, the appetizer trio that solicited the first "wows" from the table. The char siew, or chashao, was melt-in-the-mouth tender and a close examination of the menu explains it. These little morsels are from the Kurobuta or Berkshire black pig, the Wagyu of pork.
Next up was a single oyster, marinated in a secret blend of sauces and then grilled and presented in a lettuce cup. It really needed no other adornment and it shows off the chef's confidence. If there is one oyster you have to eat, it is this one. It fills the mouth with a fulfilling satisfaction, and although I usually prefer my oysters au naturel, this one I would eat, and often.
The same full flavors extend to the thick broth that was served next, a tomato-based stock that had generous slices of fish maw in it. Fish maw, of course, is the stomach of large fish that is dried and then lovingly rehydrated in top stock. It is full of natural collagen and sticky with fish protein.
Normally, chefs would need to add lashings of ginger or pepper to get rid of the fishiness. Chef Mok chooses to use the tartness of tomato, which also enhances the umami fullness of the broth.
You must then try the deconstructed crab and vermicelli from the chef's signature menu. This is where he acknowledges the influence of Singapore cuisine and his years working there.
A portion of sweet crab is accompanied by tiers of deep-fried rice noodles, creating a dish that is a nod to the crabmeat beehoon so popular at Singapore seafood restaurants.
Another of Mok's signature dishes is a crispy lobster with oatmeal, again a refined and definitely more up-market version of the prawns with crispy cereals that is a must-order as part of the Singapore seafood experience.
As cuisines merge and blend, some show a hardiness that outlasts others. Chef Mok proves that the Cantonese traditions will probably last for generations to come.
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Crispy lobster with oatmeal is one of Mok's recommends.
(China Daily 11/30/2013 page12)