The executive chef at Ho Lee Fook lets us in on his kitchen essentials and the recipes everyone needs to learn by heart
Since opening in 2014, Ho Lee Fook's busy, underground Soho dining room has remained a Hong Kong classic, where Taiwanese executive chef Jowett Yu's family-style cooking merges with a setting that’s reminiscent of late-night dive in 1960s Chinatown, New York. Behind the funky interiors is a solid menu, with house favourites including a Yunnan-style wagyu steak tartare with a hot-and-sour profile, and a roast goose to rival Hong Kong's best. Yu's bold flavours stay true to his East Asian roots, bringing patrons back time and time again since the restaurant's early days.
With Asian comfort food on the mind, we spoke with the chef and new father about cooking for his family at home, the kitchen tools he can’t live without, and advice for those wanting to recreate the restaurant experience at home.
What do you enjoy cooking for your family?
I enjoy cooking with a lot of vegetables. They are nutritious, and an essential part of any healthy diet. Being healthy is something important to me when cooking for others. Here in Hong Kong, there is a year-round abundance of a variety of fresh leafy Chinese greens, and it would be a shame not to eat them.
What do you eat when you’re stressed?
Whenever I’m stressed it is important to me spend time with family and friends, as I feel re-energised by being with them. But if there is one food that I always have on hand, it is a selection of salami and cheese. It is simple and easy to have while I’m decompressing with those I love and, of course, it pairs perfectly with a much needed glass of wine.
For all the aspiring home cooks out there: what are the three dishes they should learn?
When cooking at home, it is important that you have a strong library of ‘bases’ that you can do well, so that you can build well-rounded dishes. For me, it is essential to be able to make three things:
- Steamed rice. This is the first thing that anyone should learn, before you cook anything else. Having well-made steamed rice is the starting point for any meal.
- A basic tomato sauce. It is an essential life skill and is a strong base for a variety of recipes.
- A simple vinaigrette. This is an easy way to improve any salad. Even if you cannot cook anything at all, at least you can do this. All you need to do is cut and wash your greens, then dress your salad with a home-made vinaigrette.
What's a kitchen tool you can’t do without?
One of the most versatile kitchen tools is a fine mesh sieve. At a basic level it can be used to strain or wash vegetables as you prepare them for your meals, but it can also easily elevate what you can do in the kitchen. Your home-cooking can now have a dash of refinement as you can make recipes which require you to strain stocks or pass sauces and purées through the sieve.
What’s the most versatile ingredient in your fridge?
The most versatile ingredient for me and the best way to finish a dish is always with a squeeze of lemon. It's such a simple ingredient and most importantly one that anyone can find, but it has a magical way of giving any dish a lift with its tartness and bright acidity.
What’s your favourite local ingredient?
Hong Kong offers such a wide variety of local ingredients, especially when it comes to seafood, so many of which are fresh and abundant from our close proximity to the sea. My favourite has to be one of the city’s signature dishes and the king of all local crabs, the flower crab. It has a really delicate and sweet flesh and is best eaten when prepared in the most simplest of ways—steamed.