An interview with Chef Hui Mei Tak, Chef at Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
翡翠鴛鴦蝦炒飯Fried Rice (Yin Yang) with Fresh Shrimp, Diced Vegetables & Shrimp Roe | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
梅菜燒腩包 Braised Pork Belly Bun with Preserved Vegetables | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your culinary background?
I am Chef Hui Mei Tak and I am originally from Chiu Chow. I have always liked to cook Chiu Chow food since I was a kid and have pursued this career for more than 30 years. This is my 17th year at Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant (one part of the joint venture of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining).
2. When did you realise your passion for cooking?
I immigrated to Hong Kong from Mainland China at the age of 14/15. When I first came to Hong Kong, I wasn’t involved in the F&B industry. It wasn’t until my friend introduced me to a job at a Chinese restaurant by chance that I fell in love with cooking, especially for food carving. The masters immediately recognised my passion for food carving, which prompted me to build my career in the F&B industry.
3. What is your relationship with Chiu Chow cuisine?
I have a long history with the F&B industry as my family used to own a local food stall (大排檔), or a “fishball noodle stall” (魚蛋粉檔) to be specific. I was exposed to food production since I was young as this is the place I used to hang out a lot growing up. At that time, I remember I fell in love with the art of food carving in the first three months of my job and I became very obsessed with it. During our off-peak times at our restaurant, I would spend time imitating my master’s food carving arts in the backstairs, such as making a Shou Xing Gong (壽星公), dragon, phoenix, monkey, etc. using a carrot.
I also took a carrot back home after work to practice my skills in food carving and brought my work to my master the next day. There was a time I really enjoyed this and spent a lot of time honing my skills with food carving, and even spent the whole night working on it. This experience has stayed in my mind ever since. Time flies when one is focused on a task. Destiny has made me pursue my career in F&B.
二十三頭日本禾麻乾鮑魚 Stewed Japan Dried Oma Abalone in Oyster Sauce | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
“I know that one’s emotions can influence the decisions he/she makes at the time of cooking. Therefore, I asked my colleagues and myself to stay calm and unaffected from outside circumstances during cooking. For example, I would advise my colleagues not to lose their temper and curse in the kitchen easily. And don’t bring your emotions, as well as those external factors that tend to affect your moods to work. This way, every staff working in the kitchen can have a peaceful mind, so as to make dishes that are close to our original intention and design. This means that we are all working hard to make dishes that live up to our expectations.” –Chef Hui Mei Tak, Mr Ming’s Chinese Dining
4. What are your top three recommended dishes on the menu and why?
Sauteed King Prawns with Fresh Lily & Preserved Olives: The preserved olives that we are using are sourced from Chiu Chow. In fact, they are commonly known as “Chiu Chow Black Truffle” (潮州黑松露) as they carry a unique scent. Another ingredient is fresh lily; it is very refreshing. Together with the sweetness of the shrimp, the three ingredients complement each other well and make the final product a Chiu Chow signature.
Smoked Duck with Bagasse in Chiu Chow Style: Well let’s start with the origin. The Chiu Chow/Southern Fujian areas always been sugar-producing regions for the country. Their distinct seasons, heavy rains, and marine climate make them suitable for growing sugarcane. Once the sugarcane is planted, sugarcane juice and sucrose can be extracted, and bagasse is produced during the process, which can be used for smoking ducks. Chiu Chow rice ducks (潮州米鴨) are quite famous! Apart from marinating, smoking is another main method, which involves the use of sugarcane bagasse. The smoking process can bring out subtle sweetness, similar to those in soy sauce, but the sweetness here comes from the bagasse that stays on the ducks after smoking.
Yin Yang Fried Rice with Fresh Shrimp, Diced Vegetables & Dried Sakura Shrimp: We stir-fry the rice with shrimp roe, shrimps, and some diced vegetables. With the right amount of dried Sakura shrimp, it can bring out the freshness and sweet flavours of the shrimp, but not too much, which results in a dish with strong and intense flavours in every bite.
紅燒八寶鴨Roast Duck Stuffed with Eight Treasure Sticky Rice | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
5. What are your thoughts on modern Chinese food and how has it influenced your cooking techniques?
I found that many cuisines (especially Western food) can be made according to a formula that includes specific times and cooking temperatures. But for Chinese cooking, it is not always possible to do so. Because of the open fire/flame cooking (明火) method that we are using or the way we cook in Chinese cuisine, it requires the chefs to put in a lot of effort and focus. I always say that if a chef has high standards, he/she will be able to bring soul and love to the food. In other words, the food is unique as the chef, because he/she has poured his/her love and passion into the making of these Chinese dishes. This is why Chinese cuisine is different from the others.
I know that one’s emotions can influence the decisions he/she makes at the time of cooking. Therefore, I asked my colleagues and myself to stay calm and unaffected from outside circumstances during cooking. For example, I would advise my colleagues not to lose their temper and curse in the kitchen easily. And don’t bring your emotions, as well as those external factors that tend to affect your moods to work. This way, every staff working in the kitchen can have a peaceful mind, so as to make dishes that are close to our original intention and design. This means that we are all working hard to make dishes that live up to our expectations.
6. Can you tell us what the five essential ingredients are in dim sum?
The first type must be different varieties of flour, such as regular flour and wheat starch. The second type is shrimp or shelled shrimp, which are some important ingredients for example used in Har Gau. There is also pork, chicken and beef.
“Time flies when one is focused on a task. Destiny has made me pursue my career in F&B.”–Chef Hui Mei Tak, Mr Ming’s Chinese Dining
肉餅蒸糕蟹圈 Steamed Whole Crab with Pork Patty Conpoy | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
7. What is your relationship with Hong Kong?
I was born and raised in Chiu Chow until I was 14 or 15 years old. I then immigrated to Hong Kong with my family. At that time, I was young and wanted to continue my study. But due to the cultural differences, I couldn’t find a proper school in Hong Kong, so I went to night school in the first few years and looked for jobs at the same time. I love Hong Kong, so I settled down here.
8. How would you like to see Mr Ming’s menu progress and what are your future plans?
On the whole, I would say that Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining is a fusion of Chinese and Western cultures, where East meets West, so as to cater to different palates. But since we specialise in Chiu Chow cuisine, we base our way of handling ingredients and cooking on this culinary style. We also focus on using luxury food items when creating recipes using fresh ingredients only. We hope that by using the Chiu Chow way of handling these fresh or quality ingredients, our dishes can appeal to a wider audience. And by applying advanced techniques in the cooking process, we hope that every customer can appreciate the efforts put in by the staff.
鮑魚酥 Deep-Fried Abalone Pastry | Image courtesy of Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining
Being one of the branches of Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant, we have selected the most popular dishes from the menu of other branches of the restaurant and put them on Mr. Ming’s Chinese Dining menu. Although we specialise in Chiu Chow cuisine, we are slightly different from the other Chiu Chow branches under Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant because of the location of the mall and being between hotels. We hope to cater more to a wider audience including both locals and expats.
In the future, we expect that in addition to offering authentic Chiu Chow dishes, we can also promote food and wine pairings. Hence, we recruited a renowned and enthusiastic sommelier who can recommend the wines that go well with our Chiu Chow dishes. This way, every customer can taste the authentic Chiu Chow cuisine while enjoying it with a recommended wine, for the food and wine to complement each other to enhance the dining experience.