Interview with executive chef Vicky Cheng of Liberty Private Works

Award wining chef Vicky Cheng is the Executive Chef of Liberty Private Works. Vicky’s career spans nearly 10 years working at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world including restaurant Daniel (New York), Canoe & Auberge Du Pommier (Toronto). This week, Vicky shares his passion in food and his special truffle dish to pair with Champagne.


Did you always want to be a chef?

Absolutely: I’ve been cooking since I was nine years old. I was in New York and my parents had to go on a trip, so they left me to the care of our landlords and bought me a bunch of frozen meals – which not only tasted horrible but also ran out pretty fast. I took some money they had left me and went to the local market to buy some fresh food. I cooked for myself. And that started my journey. I knew from that moment that I was very interested in cooking.


At 26 you must be one of the youngest executive chefs in Hong Kong, and obviously you are something of a prodigy. Your restaurant is booked up a month in advance. How have you achieved such fame in such a short time?

I’ve been the youngest at a lot of things I’ve done – competitions, restaurant cook, apprentice and winning awards. I wanted to do the same as an executive chef. I guess I’ve been really lucky to train under some of the world’s best chefs like Jason Bangerter of the Auberg du Pommier in Toronto, Anthony Walsh of Canoe, also in Toronto, and Daniel Boulud of New York’s three Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel It’s given me my skills as a chef.


What is your favourite memory as a trainee chef?

I remember walking into Daniel on my very first day. Daniel Boulud himself was behind me, the executive chef was next to me, screaming in French (not at me!), I was plating with the executive sous chef, the chef de cuisine was across from me – all these big guys were in front of me and here I was, this little cook from Toronto! I was so scared and one of my tasks was to simple put a line of purée on a plate but I was shaking so much it turned into a line of zigzags.


Why did you come to Hong Kong?

It’s a good question because I had everything going for me in New York. But I needed more. I needed the flavours and cuisines of Asia that I knew I couldn’t get in a classical French restaurant like Daniel. I wanted to do something really different for me alone. I wanted to create my own dishes. So I took over at Liberty Private Works and Liberty Exchange. I wake up and am excited to do innovative cuisine.


Have you managed to evolve your own personal style of cooking and how do you define it?

I have a classic French restaurant background and my techniques are traditional. But because of my age and my playful mind I like to experiment and use a lot of Asian ingredients. I learned to cook with what I can get and I’m a big fan of organic, natural and local. One of my signature traits is to never, ever waste anything at all that’s edible. I learned that during my training period at the Auberg. Anything that can be eaten has flavour and can therefore be turned into something beautiful. Scraps of celery can make a stock, a puree, a sauce. I use the techniques I learned from the Michelin-starred restaurant, the techniques I learned in Toronto that come together with my own ideas and flavours and styles.


What makes truffles so special to you as a chef?

I’ve seen truffle sellers come into Daniel’s looking like drug dealers. They’d walk into the restaurants in tee-shirts, shorts and grubby hair looking exactly like they were going to sell cocaine. Then they’d open their backpacks and they would be full of truffles – they’d cover the whole table with truffles, thousands of dollars worth. I have to say that truffles are special. They are seasonal so we get to work with them for a very short period of time and that enhances their appeal. Like most chefs, I get excited over truffles because they are seasonal.


What’s your favourite way of honouring the pairing of truffles and Krug?

A truffle is so beautiful. So is Krug Champagne. When something is that beautiful, you don’t need to do much to it as each enhances the other. A beautiful black truffle, or a beautiful white truffle needs little to make it special – as it already is. For the Krug pairing, I have produced a local turbot with winter black truffle and when paired with Krug, the truffle dish is elevated to another level.


Interviewed by Sooni Shroff-Gander


Local Turbot with Winter Black Truffle
Created by Executive Chef, Vicky Cheng & Served at Liberty Private Works, Hong Kong
Makes 4 portions

Ingredients for fish
1 fillet Turbot
1 Celery root
30g Winter black truffle
10g French Butter

For truffle coulis
100g Black truffle trimmings
10g Shallots, thinly sliced
30g Butter
30g Truffle juice
10g Salt

For celery root puree

100g Celery root trimmings
20g Shallots, thinly sliced
10g Garlic
30g Butter
1 sprig Fresh thyme
10g Salt
1g White pepper
50g Whole milk
50g Whipping cream (35%)

For sauce perigueux

100g Turbot bones, no skin, no blood
20g Fine brunoised shallots
30g Fine chopped truffle
50g Truffle juice
30g Brandy
1 sprig Fresh thyme
200g Dark chicken jus
20g French butter

For turbot
Set thermo circulator at 54 (Celsius). Using a mandolin, slice celery root and truffle into 1 mm slices. Punch out rounds with a 1.5 cm cutter (save trimmings for sauce). Blanch celery root in salted water for 30 seconds. Place in iced water. Season both sides of fish with sea salt. Carefully place alternating truffle and celery root rounds on side of fish, creating “fish scales.” Place in sous vide bag with butter and seal on high, taking care not to displace the “scales”. Place in water bath for 12 minutes (for ½ inch thick fillet). Remove from bag, trim edges.

For truffle coulis
Sweat shallots in butter and salt. Chill. Put truffle, truffle juice and shallot mixture in sous vide bag and seal on high. Place inside 85 (Celsius) water bath for 45 minutes. Remove and blend in blender until very smooth.

For celery root puree
Sweat shallots, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper in butter until tender. Add celery root, cream and milk. Turn heat down to low, cover with cartouche and cook until tender. Puree until smooth. Check seasonings. Puree should be very white.

For sauce Perigueux
Roast turbot bones in heavy bottom pan until golden. Add trimmings so there’s no waste. Deglaze with truffle juice. Reduce by half. Add chicken jus and simmer. Turn heat off, cover with plastic wrap and allow to infuse for at least 20 minutes. In separate saucepan, gently brown butter, and add shallots, truffles and thyme with punch of sea salt. Deglaze with brandy, reduce, then strain chicken jus into truffle mixture. Reduce until sauce covers back of a spoon. Check seasonings.

To serve
Spoon the celery root puree onto a plate. Place the turbot on top and spoon over the truffle coulis and sauce Périgueux

Reprinted with permission from Financial Times.