An interview with Sun Tong Lok's chef

Gaining a Michelin star is no mean feat, but Joe Chan has managed to secure three stars in his stand-alone Chinese restaurant, Sun Tong Lok. Chan recently held a Champagne pairing dinner with G.H. Mumm, and shared his vision of modern Cantonese cuisine with Asian Palate.

AP: Asian Palate  JC: Joe Chan

AP: Is this Sun Tong Lok’s first Champagne pairing event?

JC: It is the first time for Sun Tong Lok but I have organised a few wine-paring dinners in the past, so this is not the first trial for me. The only consideration is that the dishes need to be light in flavour in order to match with the Champagnes.  The winery also appointed some dishes to include in the menu, like the braised prime rib of beef with gravy, which corresponds with Champagne – this is a surprise for some.

AP: Your menu seems to incorporate cuisine from both East and West. Will this be a continuing theme at Sun Tong Lok?

JC: I do not set any limit in choosing ingredients for the dishes, l like to experiment with the collision of Chinese food and ingredients from other countries, I use Inaniwa Udon in side dishes too. The way Sun Tong Lok is heading, is to keep the Chinese cooking but interpreting the spirit through different ingredients and presentations.  Of course, our most famous shark’s fin soup and abalone will still follow our 40 year’s experience, from procurement to preparation, its all about experiences and efforts to make a traditional dish stands with reputation.

AP: How has the controversy over consuming shark’s fin soup affected Sun Tong Lok- given that it’s one of your signature dishes?

JC: No much, in Sun Tong Lok we have a lot of choices that can replace the shark’s fin, creating the same delicacy and refinement. If a customer refuses to have shark’s fin on the banquet menu, we can replace it with bird nest soup or others.

Braised Prime rib of beef with House gravy

AP:  Shark’s fin is a very traditional Cantonese dish. Are there differences in preparation of modern Cantonese food?

JC: I can say it comes down to the ingredients. Let’s explain with a Sun Tong Lok’s dish- ‘Baked Oysters with Egg’, originating from an old-fashioned Cantonese home made dish ‘Baked Fish Intestines with Egg’.  But the dish is very time-consuming in preparation, especially because the intestines come from freshwater fish and need to be very clean in order to consume. Also, customers are paying more attention to their health by not eating too much Haslet,, so I replaced the intestines with oysters, which is more hygienic and easier for consumers to accept what they are eating. The oysters have an umami flavour that is more or less the same as fish intestines.

AP: Any featured ingredients or dishes on the seasonal spring menu?

JC: This spring I am going to put something light and fresh in the menu. One new spring dish will be a ‘Winter Melon Shark’s Fin Soup with Egg White’ – it is very light and fresh in both flavours and presentation, with the green and white colour from the winter-melon and egg white matching with the season of spring.

AP: You’ve achieved three Michelin stars, now do you have any other goals?

JC: Our next goal, which is always my goal, is to make the dishes more perfect and more refined. This is the principle of Sun Tong Lok’s kitchen. The three stars from Michelin do bring a lot more pressure as customers come here with higher expectations. I cannot see any changes in our customer profile, most of our customer are still locals, with around 2% of our customers being tourists. The rise in food price level has driven us to mark up prices in the menu, but despite this Sun Tong Lok is always providing a lot of choice for our costumers.

AP: We hear you are expanding…when is the opening of Sun Tong Lok’s Beijing Wangfujing branch?

JC: We are planning to open it in April. We are taking 60% of our menu and ideas from Hong Kong to our new branch. Alongside signature Cantonese dishes we will add more Beijing characteristics in the menu such as Beijing cold dishes and noodles. We will also add in more Chinese red and white wines together with the French wines.

© Photos from Sun Tong Lok