We caught up with Chef Ho Chee Boon, the executive chef of Hakkasan New York, who talked about his 24 years of experience at several of the world’s most renowned Asian restaurants. Chef Ho has been with the Hakkasan brand since its conception and was the chef behind the original Michelin Star-rated location in London, which opened in 2001.
The New York branch of the luxury chain opened early April steps away from Times Square. The restaurant is the world’s only luxury Chinese restaurant chain and features elaborate dishes with price tags that go up to $888. The entire interview was conducted in Chinese. Translation after the jump.
Tell us about your culinary background. Where did you learn to cook?
My dad is from Guangdong, and my mom is from Malaysia. I started in Singapore and Malaysia, afterward Hong Kong and Taiwan. I started off learning to cook very traditional Cantonese food.
Did you learn by yourself or take culinary classes?
I learned on the job. I picked up my techniques by working for well-known restaurants. Wherever I was, whatever restaurant I heard was famous, I would try to work there. Back then, I enjoyed working around at different restaurants and picking up their respective techniques.
How did you get from Asia to London?
My boss had opened up some businesses in the U.K., and he brought me there to start Hakkasan. It was very successful. For a time, I also went to Russia and also made Chinese cuisine based on the Hakkasan in London. Then I went back to London.
Why go back?
My boss wanted me to expand to all regions of the globes to make it like a corporation, so I helped him. This time, this year, our main objective is to expand in America, especially in New York.
You’ve cooked in so much regions in the world, from Hong Kong to Dubai to London, and now you’re in the United States. Do you adjust your menu based on regional palates? Or is Chinese food the same everywhere?
Everyone’s preferences from all the regions of the world is different. In Asia, especially in Hong Kong, the people prefer traditional Cantonese food. They prefer much lighter flavors as opposed to people here in America who prefer heavier tones. When I was in Dubai, I realized they liked foods that are heavy in spices. Our menus are prepared according to specific regions. We have at least 48 items on the menu unique to each individual Hakkasan restaurant.
What is your favorite dish in the New York menu?
Actually, I like every dish. If I don’t like a dish completely, I won’t put it in our menu and have my customers eat it. I tell my employees, if you don’t enjoy what you cook, and you don’t give it your all while you’re cooking, then you won’t be able to be a good chef. Also, if the dish is not good where you will not have an interest in eating it yourself then it is unacceptable to serve to our customers. So I like every dish here. I also constantly change menus to allow my customers to experience new flavors. Of course, the classics we keep. For instance, the grilled Chilean sea bass with honey, the roasted silver cod, and the black pepper rib eye. Those have been with us since the beginning.
Asian-fusion and Chinese cuisine has really taken off in New York. What are your thoughts on this growing culinary scene?
To be honest, they have their ways of preparing a dish, and I have mine. I don’t really keep up with what they put out, I only focus on the quality of my own dish. Personally, I really respect all the chefs out there. Their food is good. However, I feel that a lot of them don’t focus on gathering skilled people and good quality ingredients to make their dish–they seem to only be focused on the bottom line, which is the profits. At Hakkasan, I’m really lucky. My boss really focuses on the quality of the ingredients and the quality of the labor force. I have about 60 to 70 employees at hand, so I can accomplish what I want to do. That’s why I have been with Hakkasan for so long. I’ve received many offers from Asia, but at the end of the day, Hakkasan is the place that provides me with the tools and ingredients to let me foster my creativity.