Essential Macau | Master chef of Portuguese cuisine

This year is the 12th anniversary of StarWorld Hotel Macau. As its Executive Manager, Chef Joe Chan has designed a special Portugal menu for Temptations.

When it comes to the best chef of Portuguese cuisine, Chef Joe must surely rank as one who should be included on the list. He has cooked for over thirty years and has served many celebrities and politicians.

Young Joe always enjoyed cooking and eating with his family and Portuguese neighbours at home and consequently knows authentic Portuguese cuisine very well.

Upon graduating from high school, he wanted to find a job that did not require him to stay in an office thus a friend introduced him to a French restaurant in Hyatt Regency Macau.

“I love freedom and eating,” said Joe, “and I though that by being a cook at least I could learn a skill; that’s why I [chose this] career.”

Compared to Chinese cuisine, Joe was more fascinated by the atmosphere, presentation and skills of Western cuisines. At that time, he said, few people worked in Western cuisine restaurants.

During the last thirty years Joe has not forsaken his life’s plan, which was to become a chef and then the Executive Chef of a restaurant, saying: “When I started to work in hotels I had to learn many things; in addition to all the dishes on the menu, I needed to know administration. The path I have walked is just like practicing Buddhism in the Shaolin Temple.”

In 1985, the second year of Chef Joe’s career, he got the chance to work in the best Grill in Macau, the A Galera Restaurant. There he learned about authentic Portuguese cuisine with chefs from Portugal. The quality and presentation of the restaurant were different from the family kitchens in the city; all of which helped Joe lay a solid foundation of high-end Portuguese cuisine.

Because of this special history, Portuguese cuisine in Macau should be divided into three types. Even a Macau-born person might not be able to distinguish the difference. As a Portuguese specialist, Chef Joe told us that the first type of Portuguese cuisine, which is also authentic Portuguese cuisine, should be cooked by a Portuguese with their recipe.  The second type is the cuisine cooked by Macanese people with their modified recipe. The last type refers to the dishes we normally know as Cha Chaan Teng, which is cooked by Chinese with their modified recipe, skills and local ingredients.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “Because of the historic factor, before 1999, when we represented Macau in international competitions, all dishes were called Portuguese cuisine, even though a real Portuguese would never eat those dishes in their country.”

Portuguese cuisine’s presentation gives people the impression that it is very simple and home-style.  But Chef Joe’s dishes are different.

“I also cook French cuisine,” he says. “Every dish I cook I have to make them pretty. But what’s important is that I never change the recipe and taste. Such as my egg tart; I can make a triangular version but it taste the same.”

The chef believes this kind of change is mandatory, adding that if he does not update he will only dwell in the past.

Special celebration menu

The celebration menu is inspired by the retrospective taste of Portuguese dishes. Chef wants to recall guests’ memories through his dedicated dishes. One of the highlights is the Squid Stuffed with Chouriço. Chef uses a certain sized squid from the South China Sea and steams it after stuffing it with Chouriço.

“If this little squid costs MOP30 in restaurants outside customers must complain about the price. But it really takes time to cook and can get much profit. That’s why we almost can’t eat this dish in Macau nowadays,” Joe explained.

The signature Portuguese Seafood Rice is a must-try dish. Praised by CNN Travel as one of Macau’s top 10 dishes, this exquisite specialty features plump mussels and prawns on a bed of rice slow-simmered in a signature tomato and herb broth.

“The only secret is following every step of the original recipe,” said Chef Joe. “The rice can’t be too sticky and too wet.”

Another limited dessert, Warm Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream is also outstanding. Fresh apple cubes are perfectly mixed with cinnamon which is more interesting than the French-style pies.

Promoting Portuguese cuisine is the lifelong mission and vision of Chef Joe.

“Portuguese cuisine is not the only one to me,” he said. “But we are inseparable. I want to lift Portuguese cuisine to a high level and want to let people love it through my cooking.”

Chef Joe also says that another ambition is teaching more students because few young people want to join the industry, adding he really wants to help young chefs succeed.