Eating seasonal food makes perfect sense. Mother nature knows best and provides us with the nutrition that we need for the nuances of each season. Summer fruits are hydrating and cooling, while winter vegetables are hearty and warming. Foods in season are fresher, more flavourful and more nutritious. That’s the philosophy Executive Chinese Chef Ben Wong of Man Ho Chinese Restaurant at the JW Marriott Macau lives by.
“I believe seasonal foods are full of nutrition. If I use them appropriately, then I can offer guests dishes that are not only delicious but also healthy”, he says. “Of course taste comes first, so the challenge is to use these ingredients
in a modern way that people will enjoy”.
The son of a Hong Kong restaurateur, a culinary career for Chef Wong was inevitable.
“My father owns three restaurants in Hong Kong and encouraged me to join the industry. When I started cooking I absolutely fell in love with it right from the start”, he says.
After a start in his father’s restaurants, Chef Wong struck out on his own working in top-notch restaurants in Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Malaysia, Taipei and London. He spent 10 years in London as Group Executive Chef at the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, a position that brought with it many challenges and some great honours.
“I was in charge of six restaurants that employed nearly 100 staff. Many of them had a very limited understanding of Chinese cuisine so progress could be quite slow. I leaned heavily on a maxim that one of my great mentors taught me – the five mores. Learn more, ask more, do more, make more mistakes and talk more.
I taught my team over and over again until I was sure they understood. I learned how to be patient and how to manage people,” says Wong.
Wong says working in London also taught him many other important lessons such as incorporating western ingredients and western presentation styles into his cuisine. These skills garnered him the highest of compliments.
“I was very honoured to cook for Her Majesty the Queen of England”, says Wong with pride. “I made her my Deep-fried Duck Served with Pomelo. She told me it was very nice.”
This simple sounding dish is anything but simple to prepare. The duck is first boiled with over 40 types of spices and herbs for at least three hours in a variety of rich sauces, including Kam Heong sauce, seafood sauce, plum sauce, peach sauce, fermented tofu and red fermented tofu. The duck is then entirely deboned and chopped into small, bite-sized pieces before being deep-fried until wonderfully crispy. A sprinkling of red grapefruit and pomelo finishes the dish with a flourish, lending a sweet and sour touch to balance the heavier taste of the duck.
“I also cooked my Deep-fried Crab Claw with Crispy Rice Flavored with Egg Yolk for President Hu Jingtao”, he adds.
A delight unlike any other, for this dish wild mushrooms, butter and salted egg yolk are carefully combined. At the same time, crab claws are enveloped with crispy rice and deep-fried. All the ingredients are then harmoniously combined together and stir fried to lock in the crispiness.
Both of these are now signature dishes on the menu at Man Ho Chinese Restaurant. In addition to the regular menu, Chef Wong also offers a selection of seasonal menus.
This month, the much-loved hairy crab takes pride of place as the hero ingredient.
“We are using crabs from Yangcheng Lake,” says Chef Wong. “Ordinarily, the crabs are steamed, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something new, something exciting for my guests, so I’m using the crab roe to make pineapple buns and I’m also baking the crabs in sea salt. I’m sure no one else is cooking crabs like this.
Baked Hairy Crab in Sea Salt and
Vintage Yellow Wine uses a ten-year Huadiao Jiu, elevating the simple hairy crab with a more premium and flavourful aftertaste. Chef Wong explains that the warming nature of the
Huadiao Jiu balances the coolness of the crabmeat. An interesting method of preparation for this dish is the immersion of the crab in heaps of salt before further seasoning is added.
Another appealing dish is the Braised Fish Maw stuffed with Crab Roe and Shrimp Mousse. The fish maw and shrimp meat is steamed before the freshly stir-fried crab roe is sprinkled on top. A carefully brewed chicken stock is then added to the dish at the point of plating to balance the flavours.
Constantly thinking ahead and always innovating, Chef Wong shares his thoughts for his next dish. “I am going to launch a medicinal Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. I’ll use Radix Angelicae Sinensis, Codonopsis,
Pilosulae, astragali, wolfberries and red dates – that will get the blood running and warm the body,” he says. “I love learning and I’ll never stop trying new things”, he concludes.