Modern Cantonese food today can range from black truffle dumplings to tweezer-heavy presentation. Chef Pak Chee Yit does all that, yet always with an eye on the cuisine’s core principles.
“I believe that what diners want is for a chef to stay true to the spirit of the cuisine,” he said. “Not necessarily remaining traditional per se, but retaining the essence of Cantonese cooking while offering new perspectives.”
It’s a philosophy that drives the Ipoh-born chef’s approach at contemporary Cantonese restaurant Madame Fan, where he recently took over as executive chef. Yes, he uses Western produce like foie gras. The plating is worthy of any high end eatery. But the spirit is well and truly Cantonese.
“It begins with the right mindset and is executed with a focus on balance,” he said. “Our culinary compass is one that stays true to the roots of Cantonese cooking, while keeping an open mind when it comes to embracing and experimenting with new renditions.”
One cornerstone is the use of fresh, high quality ingredients. For Pak, this means using kurobuta pork in the classic Sweet and Sour Pork, and cordyceps flowers with Salt-baked Spring Chicken. Macadamia replaces cashew nuts in the timeless Sautéed Celery with black fungus and sweet pea, and bluefin tuna joins salmon in the yu sheng for Chinese New Year.
Another tenet is letting these ingredients express themselves harmoniously. Pan fried-Wagyu beef with foie gras and black pepper sauce graciously take turns to reveal themselves. Wasabi gives structure to a sweet prawn appetiser. The earthiness of black truffle adds depth to the gentle flavours of marble goby.
“Bringing out the best flavours of ingredients is a key attribute in Cantonese cooking,” Pak said. “With the Pan-fried Marble Goby Fish Fillet, cooking the truffles allow us to extract the exquisite essence of the ingredient, while ensuring that the delicate flavours of the fish is not compromised when the two are put together.”
Bridges Lobster and Hokkaido Scallops soup ultimately sums up Pak’s beliefs in a bowl. A broth made with 20-year-old Gu Yue Long Shan rice wine is poured table-side, turning it deeply fragrant and sweet, with textures similar to shark fin soup.
While Pak said it the resemblance wasn’t intentional, the dish combines all the cuisine’s traditional assumptions while nodding to modern ethical and culinary practices, which is what modern Cantonese food should be. The soup is only available for Chinese New Year, so consider this a petition to have it on the menu permanently.
“There is no better way to allow guests to indulge in the fresh flavours of an ingredient than having the dish cooked before you at the table,” Pak said. “Hence, we decided to a traditional Chinese cooking technique called “crossing the bridge” to deliver that experience.”
Besides showcasing ingredients, Pak believed that cooking styles can also turn more people onto Chinese food. “There are a total of 15 basic culinary techniques in Cantonese cooking, which make the cuisine both approachable and versatile,” he said. “The latter is also what makes Cantonese cuisine one of the most suitable Chinese cuisines for cross-cultural expressions, connecting the art of Chinese cooking with the world through gastronomy.”
Not like that’s a problem. People from Guangdong province have been migrating to all corners of the world for decades, taking their food with them. Today, when someone craves a Chinese meal in the New York borough of Queens or the suburbs of Sydney, it’s probably Cantonese, even if they don’t know it.
It’s the same at Madame Fan. It’s not your grandparents’ Cantonese food, but it will taste good.
“When challenging the boundaries, we always stay true to Madame Fan’s philosophy while ensuring the guests’ enjoyment comes first,” Pak said.
Madame Fan is located at 32 Beach Rd, The NCO Club, Singapore 189764. They currently have special dine-in set menus for Chinese New Year as well as takeaway and delivery options, which can be ordered here.