Hot and spicy on the menu

Chef William Tong on revamping the menu of Chinapolis Chinese speciality restaurant, at Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud, with his signature Sichuan and Cantonese dishes.

November 04, 2016 04:08 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 01:29 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Chef William Tong at Chinapolis, Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud Photo:S. Mahinsha

Chef William Tong at Chinapolis, Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud Photo:S. Mahinsha

Talk about a delicate hand! With just one handshake, Chef William Tong (officially Chef Lai Hin Tong William) lets you know the feather-light skill of his hands, which have made him a star of Chinese cuisine. The executive master chef of Memories of China restaurant at Vivanta by Taj, M.G. Road, Bengaluru, with 43 years of experience behind him, is in the city to revamp the menu and also re-launch Chinapolis, Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud’s Chinese speciality restaurant.

Chef Tong, a native of Hong Kong, is an expert in Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine, one of the eight main traditions styles of Chinese cooking. “I became a chef because I love to eat, particularly Cantonese seafood. I’m Cantonese myself and I learnt to cook traditional dishes from my mother, also an expert cook. I thought I should specialise in another style of Chinese cooking, if I was to turn professional. Sichuan style is known for its spicy, pungent and bold flavours because we use quite a lot of garlic, chilli, particularly the tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies, and a whole range of spices like star anise and cinnamon. Cantonese cuisine, meanwhile, is much milder and celebrates the natural flavour of the proteins and ingredients, with just a bit of steam, stir fry or braising to enhance it,” explains Chef Tong, who doesn’t look a day older than 50.

While working in Sze Chuan Lau restaurant in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong (now closed), Chef Tong was plucked from obscurity by the legendary Ajit Kerkar, himself. Kerkar, then managing director of the Taj Group of hotels, was dining at the restaurant and liked the food so much that he promptly offered the young chef de partie a job at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai. “I didn’t know anything about India. I didn’t even know English. The master chef of the restaurant had to translate Mr. Kerkar’s offer and I thought, why not? It’ll give me an opportunity to learn about other cuisines and I would get to travel as well.” That was in 1981 and he was 25. Chef Tong worked in Chennai for six years before moving back home. He then returned to India in 1998, this time to Bengaluru (for seven years), after working in HK, Philippines and Indonesia. He is now on his second stint at Memories of China. “I’ve travelled across India and worked in the Tajs in the metros. I’ve come to know the Indian palate for Chinese food, particularly your fondness for ‘Indo-Chinese’ food! The first time a guest asked me for Gobi Manchurian, I was flabbergasted. It is not an authentic Chinese dish. I had no idea how to make it. So, I went to the kitchen and ask my sous chefs/trainees if they knew the recipe. All the hands went up! The dish is actually very easy to cook but I prefer to stick to authentic Chinese recipes. Over the years, I’ve learnt that Indians don’t like bland flavours and they like a whole lot of gravy with their food. That does not mean I will compromise on the authenticity of my dishes. If they ask for gravy, I will make and give them gravy in a separate bowl!” says Chef Tong, ending the conversation with a smile and another soft handshake.

Special dishes

The chef’s holding a sheaf of papers and tells us that it’s Chinapolis’ new menu, which he has been developing for a few months now. “There are over 70 dishes on the menu. It’s a mix of Sichuan, without too much spice, and Cantonese, without it being too mild. There’s also a smattering of other Chinese cooking traditions such as Beijing, Shandong and Shanghai. All of them are my signature dishes,” he says offering us a sneak peek. On the revamped menu are obviously scrumptious items like Sichuan style double cooked pork (pork steamed for a hour and then stir fried with peppers, chilli and soya sauce); Cantonese dimsums, stuffed with pork/chicken/prawns/vegetables; Dan dan chicken, again a Sichuan style dish, this time with hot garlic sauce; mapo tofu [“literally, pockmark faced (ma) grandma’s (po) tofu”], and the like. Chinapolis’ new menu goes live on Monday, November 7. Contact 6612345

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