We talk to pastry prodigy Otto Tay to get a glimpse at how he rings in the new year with his family, friends and beloved yee sang

When it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year, even the best and most renowned chefs are just like us–it’s all about the food and reuniting with family and loved ones. However, they might have the upper hand in knowing just what to eat, what and how to cook, and what to put on their yee sang. We chatted with world pastry champion Otto Tay to get his take on celebrating, eating, and baking during Chinese New Year.

Going home

As a Johor native, Tay makes the trek back to his hometown, Muar, to celebrate with his family, which consists of himself, his brother, and his parents. “When we celebrate, we usually have a family gathering for the New Year’s Eve dinner and then we would stay up late to pray to Ti Kong,” says Tay, who is Hokkien. Ti Kong refers to the Jade Emperor, to whom Hokkiens would pray to twice over the course of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations with the second prayer occurring on the night of the eighth day, close to midnight.

New clothes 

Traditions are aplenty during this festive season. Whether it be dressing in red on the first day or playing games with visiting cousins, every family subscribes to one tradition or another to usher in the new year with as much luck and prosperity as possible. Tay’s family is no different. “Angpow from the seniors, which I would say I am always very happy to receive,” declares Tay, when asked what his favourite tradition is. “On the first day, we must wear red. If we don't, my grandma would scold us. So we have to be dressed in new clothes, as it’s a new start and it's very ong (Chinese for prosperous) for the upcoming year.”

Reunion dinner must-haves

For some, a reunion dinner is incomplete without hotpot. For others, a big pot of braised pork trotters would be the pièce de résistance of the meal. For Tay, it's a humble teapot. “My late grandpa would make tea and gather all his grandsons to tell stories about his childhood,” reminisces Tay about his nostalgic Tie Guan Yin tea. “He would tell stories, we would eat, and he would explain why he cooked specific dishes–all with tea.”

See also: Here’s How to Celebrate Chinese New Year 2022 in Style

Tatler Asia

Of yee sang and bakkwa

Unlike what you might believe about a chef’s celebration, Tay does not cook anything for his reunion dinners, which happen on New Year’s Eve. Instead, he brings yee sang and contributes to the bakkwa stash in his family’s home.

“In Muar, there are hardly any fine dining or grand restaurants,” explains Tay, “But I would get a nice yee sang from a secondary school friend. His name is Samp and he's also a chef but a culinary chef. I always buy my yee sang from his restaurant, Samp’s Kitchen.”

Yee sang, but make it fancy

While most of us are used to seeing the likes of salmon, peanuts, pillow crackers as symbolic toppings on our yee sang, Tay opts for the fancy. Thanks to Samp, Tay is able to make requests for special ingredients to included. “He actually brings a lot of nice ingredients from Kuala Lumpur to Muar and then he develops his menu,” says Tay with pride. “In Muar, it’s hard to get things like Wagyu beef, salmon, smoked duck, or caviar. So he usually makes a caviar, truffle oil and smoked duck yee sang for me. It’s quite mixed but it’s very nice.”

When asked what his favourite yee sang embellishment is, he plainly states truffles. “When I was a kid, I didn’t like truffles. I thought it was very weird and wondered why there were people eating this thing. Over time, it grew on me and now I look for truffles,” explains Tay.

Memories of yee sang

Chinese New Year is the season for reunions and gatherings, which means it's also the season for nostalgia–lots of it. Yee sang is the symbol of reunions, with everyone tossing bits of carrots, daikon, raw fish, and peanuts while yelling out their wishes for the upcoming year. “Yee sang is not just food. It’s a culture that brings everyone together,” says Tay. “When you mention yee sang, in my memory, it’s just happiness. Everyone crowded together, everyone being happy together, everyone voicing out their wishes. It's something that brings happiness and hope for people.” 

A toss and a wish

“Nian nian you yü!” “Da ji da li!”

These are just two of the sayings that you’ve probably heard while tossing the symbolic ingredients higher and higher, subsequently making the world’s most delicious mess on your dining table. “Health is the most important thing–it’d be my first priority. Then, I would say getting rich… okay, I would say financial freedom,” says Tay, while chuckling, when asked what he usually wishes for when tossing his yee sang. 

See also: Chinese New Year 2022: 5 Luxury Watches Celebrating The Year of the Tiger

CNY stands for Cookies New Year

No Chinese New Year is complete without our beloved cookies. Unique to Malaysian and Singaporean celebrations, these little tubs of joy represent the snacking element in our celebrations. The red screw tops aren’t just a symbol of prosperity, but also a symbol of pure joy. Everyone is biased towards one specific cookie type and for Tay, it’s his cherished waffle egg rolls, reminiscent of kuih kapit but in tubular form.

“I always liked to crush them and eat them right from the tin,” recalls Tay of his egg roll eating habits when he was younger. “People like to eat them one by one but I like to smash them and then use my hands to eat the crumbs. When I do that, the whole tin can will belong to me because no one would want to eat crumbs and my mom would scold me for it.”

We’re sure Tay isn’t the only one guilty of hoarding cookies during this holiday. 

Tatler Asia

Tackling dinner preparations

Cooking such an important and symbolic feast is a beast of a task. From taking into account the must-haves, likes, dislikes and taste preferences of your entire family, preparing such a meal is sure to make you pull out a few hairs (unless you’re a seasoned pro). “Talk to your mom, ask your parents or your seniors to share what they would like at dinner then try to cook those dishes,” advises Tay. “It’s nice to tell them that but on the other hand, you can steal their secrets.” 

If baking is something you’ve got planned for the festivities and you're up for a serious patisserie test, try your hand at Tay’s recipe for his festive red Ong (旺) pastry. Composed of several parts, here's a step-by-step guide to putting it all together.

Pistachio Sponge

Ingredients:

100g Debic Crème butter

164g Icing sugar

72g Ground pistachio

14g Trimoline

143g Pure Pistachio Paste, set aside 100g to inject into the sponge

164g Egg whites

71g Cake flour

2.8g Baking powder

Instructions

  1. Beat Debic Crème Butter, pistachio paste, icing sugar and trimoline till fluffy.
  2. Gradually add in egg white, followed by pistachio powder, cake flour and baking powder.
  3. Using a Silikomart Mart mould “Moment”, fill the cake mixture 30 per cent of the way into the mould to bake at 175˚C for 12 minutes.
  4. After it is done baking, let the sponges cool and remove them from the silicone mould.
  5. Inject the remaining pistachio paste into the pistachio sponge.

Raspberry Lychee Gelée

Ingredients
200g Les vergers Boiron Raspberry Purée

50g Sugar

4.6g Pectin NH

10pcs Fresh lychee

Instructions

  1. Boil the puree with the sugar/pectin mixture.
  2. Fill the “Moment” mould 10 per cent of the way with the Raspberry Lychee Gelée and place half a lychee meat into each Gelée.
  3. Place the pistachio sponge on top of Raspberry Lychee Gelée and freeze.
  4. Once frozen, unmould.

Lychee Cream

Ingredients

360g Les vergers Boiron Lychee Purée

40g Les vergers Boiron Lemon Purée

188g White Couverture Chocolate 42%

240g Debic Whipping cream

36g Gelatin mass

4g Vanilla seed

Instructions

  1. Warm purées to 65˚C and gradually emulsify with melted white chocolate.
  2. Cool down to 35˚C and fold in whipped cream and gelatine.
  3. Add in whipping cream, gelatin and vanilla and whip until you achieve soft peaks.
  4. Fill the “Moment” mould 50 per cent of the way with the cream.
  5. Place the Raspberry Lychee Gelée with Pistachio sponge into the lychee cream.
  6. Chill in a chiller until homogenous.
  7. Whip into medium peaks to use.

Almond Croustillant

Ingredients

226g Toasted almond paste

60g White Couverture Chocolate 42%

1.5g Sea salt flakes

140g Feuilletine

20g Toasted almond nibs

Instructions

  1. Combine the ingredients and mix well.
  2. Flatten the mixture into a 2mm thick sheet and cut into the desired shape on parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  3. Keep in the freezer. 
  4. Place the almond croustillant onto the pistachio sponge when ready.

Red Velvet Spray

Ingredients

250g Cocoa butter

14g Red powder

10g White chocolate 32%

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients for the spray well and load them into your airbrush tool.
  2. Once the cake is frozen, unmould.
  3. Immediately spray with red cocoa butter spray.
  4. Decorate to your liking. 
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