Having worked in North America at the French accented Auberge du Pommier, Canoe in Toronto and at New York’s Restaurant Boulud, Chen returned home to Hong Kong in 2011. He began the new chapter of his career at the now defunct Liberty Private Works before opening VEA on the 30th floor of The Wellington in 2015. It’s an intimate dining experience, seating only 25 at its trio of scalloped marble counters, which surround an open kitchen that melds French and Chinese techniques and produce.
What was most challenging and what was best about this Gelinaz, Jonathan?
The most challenging was to limit ourselves, with all the ideas we came up with. It was probably due to my personal dream to look deeper into Chinese cooking and culture since it is part of my roots. Also my team was super motivated and excited. So there were so many things we wanted to do, even though it was just a one off event.
The final result was just amazing. Of course we changed the food and drinks but we went even further to redesigning a new menu and logo, changing the cutlery, adding lanterns and dragons all over the restaurant. The best part was our Cantopop playlist that my team is surprisingly really into it. It was a lot of work but I truly believed we delivered a once in a lifetime experience, best part is getting to do it at Relae.
What do you think to have the guest chef from who you got matrixes and you in common and what are the greatest differences between you two?
I think the main fact is that we share the same cultural background and upbringing. Our roots are based in Chinese cuisine and culture. Vicky’s Philosophy is to pay respect to Chinese cooking and ingredients while still adding a modern approach to it. This was a very easy lead for me to follow and was a great opportunity to reinterpret the food and dishes I grew up with myself.
Which was your favourite dish you created for this dinner?
There are so many. Since we choose so many different ways to represent Chinese cooking and culture. We used Vicky’s recipe for inspiration and one of them was a dessert. He had Tang Yuan as one of the components.
Tang Yuan is very traditional Chinese dessert consisting of sweet dumplings made from glutinous rice flour, filled with sesame paste, often served with a warm ginger syrup. Just with the timing of how Lunar New year is around the corner and this is one of the symbolic dishes that is to be enjoyed very soon because it represents family.
To get to take a very traditional dish and apply our own way of cooking, at the end we incorporated pumpkin juice into the dough and made the filling out of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds since this is what is in season now. Instead of serving it hot, we made a chilled broth and granita out of pumpkin and seabuckthorn. I think we really nailed it by paying respect to a classic but incorporating local ingredients and serving it in a way that was a new experience for many. For the few who had the original, it must have brought back some memories while enjoying it in a completely new way.
Will this dish become part of your regular menu?
I was worried that the guest will be challenged by the jelly like and chewy texture but everyone really liked it and many said we should we put it on the menu! Maybe it will come back in some form in the future.