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
For truffle coulis
For celery root puree
For sauce Perigueux
Reprinted with permission from Financial Times.