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Cheat Day: Phillip Pak, executive chef of Brooklyn Yakuza

Where do the notable chefs and bartenders of Hong Kong’s F&B scene like to eat when they’re not cooking? What is their best home-cooked meal? Cheat Day goes behind the scenes with the city’s culinarians and tastemakers to find out exactly what their personal favourites are during their days off.

Over the years, “Asian Fusion” has had a pretty bad rep — a sorely misunderstood genre criticised for being inauthentic to either cuisine it’s claimed to emulate. But for Phillip Pak, that’s neither here nor there. In fact, he’s very confidently coined his cooking “Asian haute cuisine”, an inspired dedication to his Japanese-American-style dishes at Showman Group’s own izakaya-inspired, Japanese-American eatery, Brooklyn Yakuza.

Phillip Pak, executive chef of Brooklyn Yakuza

A Colorado-native who’s spent many a moments up in the snowy peaks of Aspen, the Korean-American chef’s first encounter with the distinct cooking style began, naturally, at ski resorts in a coveted position working under legendary Nobu Matsuhisa at his eponymous award-winning establishment NOBU, in both Vail and Aspen.

But Matsuhisa’s signature Japanese-Peruvian dishes were not the first to inspire Pak, who very early on was introduced to this specific kind of fusion-cooking through his parents’ own family-run westernised Korean restaurant.

Having this constant exposure to two differing cultures and cuisines, from his experience in the kitchen to his own upbringing, a specialised focused on fusion dishes was only a natural step for Pak.

“I knew this was the career for me ever since I was a few years old, I always wanted to learn different styles from different chefs. I started working at a local sushi restaurants in my teenage years and like an epiphany, it felt right and confirmed my thoughts there and then.”

As a young chef in search of his own foothold in the expansive restaurant scene, Pak took to travelling and endless visits to new restaurants as inspiration for his own cooking style. Along the way, he marked important moments at important pit-stops including a brief stint working with British TV personality Gordon Ramsay. There, he learnt the rustic, comfort-cooking of British fare before jetting-off to Bangkok’s CÉ LA VIE for a brand new landscape of Asian street food culture. His next stop, which eventually led to his current long-term stay, was an internal move at CÉ LA VIE Hong Kong, before taking up the chef de cuisine position at The Hari Hong Kong’s Zoku.

Pak’s eye — or better yet, palate — opening journey across the globe has fortunately not dissuaded the experienced chef, who remains true to his roots with his own version of western-style cuisine in a broad Asian influence. Korean ingredients will of course take on a impactful role, as does the Japanese-American-style cooking that he grew up eating. One of Pak’s favourite ingredients, for example, is fermented miso, which he uses as both a marinade and a condiment in his dishes.

“Inspiration strikes me when I travel to different places and countries,” Pak explains. “I’m always thinking about Japanese and local ingredients, every dish created will have gone though a long process of combining ingredients and cooking methods.”

As for the all-encompassing secret to crafting the perfect dish: “Testing, tasting, testing, and more tasting and testing!”

Sashimi Ice Bowl

At Brooklyn Yakuza, it’s the showcase of Pak’s inventive, and as you’ll discover, innovative Asian fusion menu, which he prepares according to an ever-changing ingredient list of the season’s freshest produce. There might be names that are already familiar and well-expected from a westernised Japanese eatery, but the dishes, infused with Pak’s creative spirit, will fare a little different. From the Nibblz, or appetisers, there’s a wagyu beef oshizushi made with shisho sesame rice, and spicy tuna stacked over tempura-puffed rice drizzled in homemade teriyaki sauce. Meanwhile, larger plates (Mainz) will serve the likes of grilled squid brushed in a yuzu Gochujang glaze; a 12-hour slow-cooked braised short rib with dashi risotto; fire-roasted giant prawns and Pak’s own personal favourite, pan-seared miso salmon.

Perhaps then, the lesson is not to consider cuisines in specific genres, but rather offer an unfiltered vantage of the chef’s own interpretation in preparing ingredients. For Pak, it’s “simple and refined” with flavours that he hopes you’ll be dreaming about long after you leave the moody, neon-backed dining room.

Cheat Day with Phillip Pak:

What was the last meal you had?  

My last meal was veggie dumplings and an ice-cold bottle of soju at Arirang Restaurant on Hennessy Road. Simple yet delicious comfort food.  

What does being a chef mean to me? 

Being a chef means having discipline, creativity and an open mind. Every day you have the responsibility of cooking with fresh ingredients but when they aren’t available, you need to think outside the box quickly and come up with a delicious solution that will still please the palates of your guests.  

What was the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? 

“Whatever you do, put everything into it!” — no one was ever remembered for being mediocre.  

Tell me some of your signature dishes/creations? 

My signature dishes and creations are comprised of the perfect balance and composure that reflect the different seasons. For example, fresh soft shell crab tempura with shrimp oil, black garlic negi salad and chive oil, homemade A5 Wagyu dumplings with a secret ponzu based sauce or my yuzu kosho, shisho pork belly roulade accompanied with a sweet miso butter sauce. I promise you’ll love them!  

cheat day phillip pak
Pan-Seared Miso Salmon (HK$198)

Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen? 

I expect the best from my chefs. If they work hard, show me their dedication and best side I will always take care of them as if they were my own family, flesh and blood.  

Your favourite local Hong Kong ingredients to use? 

I’m always in awe of the dried ingredients on every street corner, I like using and experimenting with them, especially the dried mushroom variations.  

Do you cook at home? If so, what is your go-to home cooked dish? 

Cooking at home is a rare luxury when you’re working long hours in F&B! However, when I do it has to include rice, kimchi, grilled mackerel and a small steak, preferably a NY Striploin.  

You have 30 minutes, what will you make? 

Spicy tofu soup with pork belly and a bowl of steaming hot white rice.

Wagyu Beef Oshizushi (HK$148)
cheat day phillip pak
Fire Roasted Giant Prawn (HK$188)

Name the top 3 ingredients/condiments you currently own in your pantry 

Kochujang (Spicy Korean Miso), Maldon Salt & Soy Sauce.  

What are your guilty pleasure? 

Snacking on hot Cheetos, they are super addictive, especially after a long day!  

The best meal you ever had? 

The last best meal I had was in Japan, freshest fish you can get at 7am right at the Tsukiji fish market. I can still recall the soft textures of the different sashimi as if it were yesterday.  

What was your most memorable food moment? 

My most memorable food moment was when I was chosen to cook for top chefs during the Denver Food & Wine festival back home.  

What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without? 

Every time I go back to Denver, I must have Colorado Pho. I don’t know if it’s the water or high altitude but I have to have it at least once a week. Yes, it’s that good! 

cheat day phillip pak
Braised Short Rib with Dashi Risotto (HK$298)

Savoury or Sweet? 

Savoury all the way!  
 

Where do I like to go on my day off? 

I like to recharge by just switching off and watching movies.   
 

The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong? 

  • Smoke and Barrel’s Brisket 
  • Joy Hing’s Crispy pork belly 
  • Lucciola’s King Crab Pasta 
  • Hansik Goo’s Hanwoo Dumpling 
  • Kinship’s Fish Kiev 

Brooklyn Yakuza, G/F, 29 Wyndham Street, 29 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2866 1034

Lorria Sahmet
Editor
After two years writing in luxury retail, Lorria now covers food and drink happenings in Hong Kong. When not taste-testing for the best fries in the city (shoestring, always!), find her at home obsessing over tableware and attempting a fruit garden on her tiny bay window. She is happiest by the ocean with a giant fishbowl-glass of Aperol Spritz.
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