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Chef Ling of Summer Pavilion on dim sum etiquette, using contemporary ingredients, and more

Dainty dim sum goes beyond delighting appetites at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore’s Summer Pavilion. Thanks to Chef Ling Chung Tak, the award-winning restaurant’s dim sum are delivered with nature’s best ingredients and intricate techniques.

An integral part of Chinese dining culture, dim sum is loved by many, and the bite-sized morsels are more than just delicious snacks.

Summer Pavilion, a reputable award-winning Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, proudly hand-makes familiar favourites like the char siew pau (roasted pork buns), but with a contemporary and innovative twist. Chef Ling and his team of four dim sum chefs marry traditional flavours with quality ingredients and sophisticated techniques into their sublime tasty visual treats.

Of course, Chef Ling tapped into his worldly experience – spanning 49 years studying dim sum, with the last 18 of those spent at Summer Pavilion. The Hong Kong-born chef started his culinary career at age 14 and learned through the traditional Cantonese dim sum hierarchy.

But not one to rest on his laurels, Chef Ling constantly finds ways to innovate and improve by leveraging modern technology like YouTube for culinary trends. He also constantly explores new ingredients at markets for inspiration, swaps recipes and shares techniques with fellow chefs in the industry.

Concise and refined dim sum menu at Summer Pavilion

Summer Pavilion Highlights
Image credit: Summer Pavilion

Chef Ling’s wealth of experience reflects in Summer Pavilion’s concise and refined dim sum menu. Confidently showcasing 12 items, the creations define quality over quantity.

Decadent ingredients like abalone and lobster balance with flavourful companions like juicy mushrooms for the Baked Abalone Puff and layered textures found in the Deep-fried Lobster Roll with Prawn Paste and Breaded Vermicelli.

Iconic dim sum favourites receive a slight twist too. Har Gao (Steam Prawn Dumplings) gets double the crunch with the added bamboo shoots. For the humble Char Siew Bao (Steamed Barbecued Pork Bun), Chef Ling uses leftover dough and dough starters in its skin and the barbecued pork filling is enhanced with umami-filled preserved vegetables.

A literal soup for the soul is Chef Ling’s soup dumpling. Featuring abalone, dried scallop, fish maw, and stuffed mushroom dumpling, this nourishing dish also comforts diners with its clean and clear broth.

We spoke to Chef Ling about his desire to explore contemporary ingredients and the joy of appreciating dim sum.

Summer Pavilion Chef Ling Profile Dim Sum
Chef Ling. Image credit: Summer Pavilion

Lifestyle Asia Singapore (LSA): Why did you and the team decide to push the boundaries in making dim sum using ingredients like natural dough starters to create the pastry’s skin?

Chef Ling: At Summer Pavilion, all dim sum served on the menu are handmade. To achieve the desired soft and fluffy texture of our Char Siew Baos, we use yesterday’s leftover dough as starter for today’s batch. We let the leftover dough sit for at least 24 hours and allow the natural yeast to do its work. The leftover dough is ready to be used for the next batch once it has risen and about doubled in size. We will then mix it with fresh flour.

The Char Siew Bao is the only dim sum on the menu that uses leftover dough to achieve the desired soft and fluffy texture. This is a traditional method that was taught to me by my master over 30 years ago in Hong Kong when I was a young apprentice. We also incorporate preserved vegetables in our Char Siew Baos for that additional layer of taste complexity.

LSA: Employing such interesting methods and ingredients, would you call the dim sum at Summer Pavilion “progressive” or “contemporary”? Who do you have in mind when creating the dim sum?

Chef Ling: While we take pride in using traditional ingredients to preserve authentic dim sum flavours, we do not shy away from incorporating more contemporary Western ingredients such as truffle and goose liver mousse in our dim sum.

We also use natural food colouring to colour the skin of our dumplings. For instance, we extract the juice from spinach to colour the skin of the steamed angled luffa, dried scallop, mushroom and bamboo shoot dumpling that is currently available on our menu. We have also extracted red colouring from red rice grains, purple colouring from black glutinous rice, and orange colouring from orange peels to colour other types of dim sum. We do not use any artificial food colouring.

LSA: Purists will always prefer to consume traditional dim sum creations due to nostalgia. How do you and your team retain familiar flavours but still create dishes unique to Summer Pavilion?

Chef Ling: We retain classic dim sum flavours by using traditional ingredients such as prawn, chicken and pork. However, we also substitute these proteins with other meat varieties such as lobster, crab, and dried scallops to elevate our dishes. Some contemporary dishes I have introduced to the menu include the deep-fried lobster roll with prawn paste in breaded vermicelli, which is created using filo pastry to achieve a flaky texture.

Another contemporary dish we have introduced on the menu is the pan-fried shredded yam and pumpkin. Yam is widely used in dim sum on its own, but I decided to pair yam with pumpkin in this dim sum. When pan- or deep-fried, Yam is very fragrant but does not carry a sweet taste. For some sweetness, I chose to add pumpkin, and the combination works very well.

LSA: What are your approach and process using both traditional and unconventional ingredients like chilli padi to ensure the creation has the essence of dim sum?

Chef Ling: Our objective is to ensure a harmonious balance of flavours with every bite. The use of chilli padi in the braised wanton is meant to balance the tartness that comes from the vinegar.

Dim Sum Stick and Types of Flour Har Gao
Making Har Gao. Image credit: Summer Pavilion

LSA: What is your favourite dim sum creation from this menu and why?

Chef Ling: It is difficult to pick a favourite on the menu because they are all my creations. A lot of time goes into the planning of the menu and in handcrafting every single dim sum. I have been making dim sum for over 30 years and I love what I do. Knowing that diners enjoy the dim sum that I create, keeps me going.

LSA: What is one ‘dim sum’ etiquette or tip that diners should know and you’ve observed but are rarely practised here?

Chef Ling: Take time to really savour each bite and appreciate the flavours and texture of the dim sum that had been carefully handcrafted, instead of wolfing it down. I would recommend pairing our dim sum with Summer Pavilion’s signature lychee oolong tea which is light and fragrant. I would not recommend pairing dim sum with a stronger flavoured tea as it would override the taste of the food.

Though there is no fixed order for eating dim sum, I would suggest to start with the steamed items before moving on to the fried items which are usually heavier in taste.

LSA: From your experiences as a chef, what do you wish to see with Singapore’s dim sum dining culture in the future?

Chef Ling: Although it is important to be innovative amidst emerging food trends, I hope to see younger chefs preserve the traditions of dim sum. My advice is to never try and cut corners, and to put in the time and effort to master this culinary craft that has been passed down for generations.

Summer Pavilion is located at 7 Raffles Avenue, The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, Singapore 039799.

Chef Ling of Summer Pavilion on dim sum etiquette, using contemporary ingredients, and more

Derrick believes in Anais Nin's quote, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." Always craving knowledge with a child-like mindset, he recognises the importance of digital journalism in the current state of media consumption. During downtime, he reads periodicals to keep up with current affairs and subcultures, being a wayfarer and can be seen at live music concerts.

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