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Ku, king of the kitchen

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-21 07:34
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After a culinary career spanning 40 years, Hong Kong chef Ku Chi-fai brings all his skills to the table of his new restaurant Beijing Kitchen.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"It's just like if your clients never complained about a dish they weren't happy with, then they would never come back," says Ku.

Ku was happy to accept Chan's daily challenges and he believes he would not be in the position he is in today without his guidance-and he remembers everything Chan taught him to this day.

"He used to be a teacher, so he knows how to inspire chefs. He would always tell us we had to be good men before becoming good chefs. He needed chefs with a good character," Ku recalls.

Ku not only learned Chan's rigorous approach to cooking, but also showed respect in everything he did-respect for the kitchen, for his peers, the ingredients, and above all the diners.

In 2005, Ku had the opportunity to work for a Chinese restaurant in the Osaka Ritz-Carlton in Japan. As part of his test, he prepared two dishes-crab meat with shark fin and fried lobster balls-which ended up winning him the job over several other respected Cantonese chefs from Hong Kong and Singapore.

When Ku asked Chan's permission to leave the Lei Garden, Chan offered him his best wishes and told him he was welcome back any time.

Taking up his new position in Japan, Ku had to face up to a host of fresh challenges, from new ingredients and condiments to learning a new language.

"Seasoning was the most challenging part, as Cantonese cuisine needs many authentic condiments which I couldn't find in Japan," says Ku, adding that he tried his best to use local seasonings to replicate the flavors of Cantonese cooking.

Ku's culinary skills were soon appreciated by his Japanese customers. Each day, when diners arrived at the restaurant, they would first ask if Ku was in the kitchen that day, as they trusted his cooking more than the reputation of the restaurant itself.

Japanese diners love to talk with their chefs, a tradition which Ku was only too happy to uphold. The same is true of his current eatery in Beijing, where Ku can always be found talking with his clients. He even designed his kitchen to have a glass wall to allow diners watch his chefs at work.

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