Chat Chef Sam Leong on a culinary journey

Chef Sam Leong’s business card is sure to intimidate. The “Chef of the Year” and “Executive Chef of the Year” at World Gourmet Summit 2005 and the “Asian Ethnic Chef of the Year” at World Gourmet Summit 2001, ’02 and ’04 are just specks on his list of accomplishments. But achievements sit lightly on Leong, corporate chef and director of kitchens of Tung Lok group which has 22 restaurants in Singapore alone. The group has presence in Asia and the cherry on their pie is My Humble House.

At My Humble House in New Delhi’s ITC Maurya to stir in a few specialities from Hunan and Beijing, Leong recollects a culinary journey that began in Singapore about three decades ago. Though he began his dalliance with the kitchen early , it took a while before it became passion.

“I wanted to be a policeman, but my mother thought it was very dangerous,” says Leong. He objectively views his younger days and admits, “I was very naughty. I could not speak English, had no knowledge or skill.” His father, who owned a restaurant, in an attempt to bring his son on track, asked Leong to be part of the kitchen in the hotel.

“I was so bad. Two years I spent waiting in the kitchen, being the boss’s son,” says Leong. Before long, his father summoned and gave him a dressing down.

“From then on I started to concentrate and putting in effort. I was 17 then,” says Leong. Since then, it has been 28 years and a career dotted with milestones. Leong, the author of “A Wok Through Time,” is equally at ease with all kinds of Chinese cuisine, however, seafood is what he likes to cook best. It is the simplicity which accompanies seafood that appeals to Leong. “I love to cook seafood. With beef and other meat you have either braise and marinate it. With seafood you can either steam or sauté it,” he says.

With a long stint in a hub like Singapore, Leong has stood guard as dining experience underwent a change. The transformation began, Leong says with China hosting the Olympics and the opening up of markets. If the restaurants where earlier extremely bright with large lanterns, over time it has become subtle. “Now good wine is served with Chinese food and food is served as individual potions too,” he says. Though a lot of restaurants stick to the traditional Chinese experience with Chinese tea, Leong says there is choice for those who prefer a modern dining experience.

Ask Leong what he prefers to whip up at home, he springs a surprise. “We hardly ever eat at home,” says Leong giving a peek to life in Singapore. With food courts spreading out at residential areas, Leong says it’s just about stepping out and grabbing a bite.

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