GTA chef dishes on East Asian cuisine
Asian Heritage Month celebrated through food
May is Asian Heritage Month and what better way to explore Asian culture than through its delicious food? This month we're featuring four GTA chefs and restaurateurs who will each dish on four different regional cuisines: West, East, South, and Southeast. It's a big continent, see what's being served up coast to coast.
Our second stop is East Asia, which includes China, Japan, both Koreas, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia and Taiwan. The dishes and cooking techniques vary, but the staple ingredients include rice, soy beans, seafood and noodles.
Our featured East Asian chef is Ken Yau. Ken grew up in Thornhill and launched his culinary career in some of Toronto's most prestigious restaurants. He has worked all over the world: from a three-Michelin star restaurant in the U.K., to Australia and Hong Kong. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Ken had just launched his first solo cooking business in Toronto. The whole premise of k.Dinners, a pop-up supper club series, was to bring strangers together for a meal. Obviously this was an untenable business model during lockdown, so Ken had to pivot. His new venture, k.Market, is a grocery and delivery concept. Ken takes inspiration from his travels, his mother's cooking and the joy of community.
Get to know Ken.
1. Tell us about your culinary journey.
I started cooking quite young by trying to perfect the instant noodle. In university, I originally studied to be a veterinarian. Once I realized that cooking was my calling, I dove right in. I literally knocked on the back door of Nota Bene and told Chef David Lee that I wanted to learn how to cook. That simple gesture opened so many doors globally and I was able to work with some really talented people in the industry like at the three-Michelin star restaurant The Fat Duck. It was a combination of blind ambition, luck, guidance and a lot of one-way tickets. It was intimidating at first because I didn't think I belonged at any of these "big restaurants" but I was taught early on what my worth was, working at these places. Stress was always present but I had a lot of mentors who taught me how to manage it. I was never hesitant to raise my hand and ask for help.
2. Favourite foodie childhood memory?
As a kid, I loved mixing different ingredients to create new flavours. You could put me in a fast-food joint or a family restaurant and I would mix every condiment they had. I would come up with lots of fun and disgusting combinations. It was magical but was also followed by a lot of stomachaches!
3. If you were stocking the perfect pantry, what five ingredients would you select?
MSG, chicken powder, soy sauce, Hon Dashi and ketchup. You can pretty much add those to anything and it will taste good.
4. What advice would you give to cooking newbies, especially those taking on Asian cuisine?
Don't think too much about the final product; think about the act of cooking for someone or for yourself. The consequences of burning a dish or adding sugar instead of salt only cost some ingredients. In the end, you still created a meal you can laugh about and have fun with. You learn best when you make mistakes and when you attempt the dish again, you'll know what to look out for! Cook to share or nurture yourself. That is the heart of Asian cuisine and many cuisines out there.
5. How has the pandemic taken your food business in a new direction?
Adaptation was key. It took me two weeks to sort myself out mentally. After cancelling reservations for k.Dinners, the k.Dumps business model came to life because I wanted to introduce comfort food to everyone while also making people giggle a little. Just recently, the business evolved into k.Market, a virtual Asian "grocery" with various items from dumplings, instant fried rice, sauces and spices. The intention is to encourage people to cook more for themselves and others. Through comfort food, I bring a spotlight on ingredients that might not be familiar or are often misunderstood in Asian cuisine, this allows me to combine traditional techniques and express my creativity.
- Read part one of Asian Heritage Month food series: West Asian cuisine with featured chef Amina Al-Saigh
Time to Dish! What's your favourite East Asian recipe?
I'd like to share my recipe for Braised Pork Belly. It is perfect to represent East Asia because it ties in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese ingredients.
Braised Pork Belly Recipe
- 1-2 lbs Pork Belly
- 6 pcs of Canned Lychee in Syrup
- 150g Lychee syrup
- 6 Salted Plums
- 6 Umeboshi
- 4 Perilla Leaves
- 150g Glutinous Rice Wine
- 120g Water
- 150g Soy
- Optional: Steamed Rice
- Cut your pork belly into smaller chunks; around ½ pound chunks
- Measure all your ingredients in a pot and slowly bring to a simmer
- Let it simmer for 2 hours. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for at least an hour. If you have time, let the bellies cool overnight and completely take in all the flavours from the broth.
- Slice the bellies into 1cm slices and gently heat them up in a bit of broth or they can be enjoyed cold (slice a little thinner, ½ cm)
- Best served with a bowl of steamed rice
To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, @CBC is sharing stories from across the country to find out what it means to be Asian-Canadian in 2021. Follow the #ProudlyAsianCanadian hashtag and follow @CBC on Instagram and Facebook for content throughout the month.