While in Hong Kong, a friend brought me to the soft opening of VEA Restaurant and Lounge, headed by 28-year-old executive chef Vicky Cheng who was always humble and came out to meet his customers over the course of the night. I was so impressed by the cocktails and nibbles that I asked Vicky Cheng, the “V” of VEA for an interview. VEA stands for “Vicky et Antonio.” Antonio Lai is the resident star mixologist.
A: Tell us how you’ve come to cooking and a bit about your journey from North America to Hong Kong.
I have always been interested in cooking since i was little, instead of cartoons on TV. Since little, it was all around Jamie Oliver and Emeril Lagase for me. I started cooking in Toronto as a non paid co-op student and eventually realized there just wasn’t anything else I could imagine myself doing other than 100% focusing on cooking. I knew i wanted something more than Toronto. Don’t get me wrong… I love the city. As I wanted to work in a Michelin star restaurant, I made my way to Daniel in New York City. After three years, I made the decision that I wanted to touch my Asian roots, be in Asia, and be surrounded by Asian culture, food. Soon Hong Kong became clear as I was born with a Hong Kong ID [card]. I came back home and touched my roots once again.
A: What is the concept for VEA Restaurant and Lounge and how did you come up with it?
I love mostly all Asian food, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, high end, low end… etc. I love how the combination of flavors that are general very three dimensional. A bit of sweet, sour, a bit of spiciness, textures, crunchiness. Growing up cooking with my mom and grandma, for every bit of salt, we’ve countered with a bit of sugar, for everything that is soft and mushy, we counter it with something crunchy.
A: Can you give us a few samples of your favorite dishes at VEA? Can you also talk about the inspiration behind a tasting menu style restaurant?
Working on this menu for VEA was a special experience, and it was extremely exciting doing what I love most. The usage of seasonal Asian ingredients such as Chinese hairy crabs in French cooking is something I have always done, and I believe what it fits into my cooking philosophy very well–to make my guests happy through the food and service we provide.
The marriage of food and beverages is the entire concept of the restaurant, and each tasting menu is paired with signature cocktails by my partner, award winning mixologist Antonio Lai. We offer an 8-Course tasting menu with drinks paring. Dishes will change regular every week depending on the seasonal ingredients available.
A: Who are the chefs that have inspired you or you respect?
Jason Bangerter was my first mentor at Auberge du Pommier, Toronto (currently chef at Langdon Hall, Canada ). I do hope and plan to have a collaboration dinner with him here in Hong Kong. It would be great fun.
And Daniel Boulud of course… but, perhaps even more importantly, Jean Francois Bruel, executive chef at Restaurant Daniel. These are the hardest and fastest working chefs I know.
A: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a chef?
Immerse yourself and accept sacrifices. Understand that it will not always be fair. Love your job. I do not only hire the best cooks with the most experience, but I always hire the best cooks with the best attitude, personality, and the eager to learn. For example, my junior sous chef started cooking with me with had only had one other pizza making job prior, but because of his attitude, his drive, he is now one of the managers that leads the pack.