Chef Chan Chen Hei’s success is the classic story of how a poor Canton-born lad fled the mainland with his parents to seek a better life in Hong Kong, managed to emerge triumphant in his chosen vocation despite facing numerous adversities.
His family’s impoverished background made the young Chan determined to rise above it all with sheer hard work, humility and self-belief. These traits eventually caught the eye of his senior who took Chan as his protégé. It was this talented sifu who taught Chan to appreciate his heritage of Chinese culture and food.
After working with several Hong Kong restaurants, the intrepid Chan joined Hotel Inter-Continental in Singapore in 1982. He rose to fame after having impressed none other than Mr Mohamed Al-Fayed, owner of Harrod’s department store in London whilst the tycoon stayed at the same hotel as a VIP guest. So enamoured was Mr Al-Fayed with Chef Chan’s culinary skills, he offered Chan to work for him in France which the chef declined.
Chef Chan’s stature and legions of fans grew during his 13-year tenure at the Pan Pacific Singapore’s Hai Tien Lo restaurant. They include former Singapore President Wee Kim Wee, Hong Kong magnate Dickson Poon, top government officials, celebrities and the media fraternity.
An active advocate of Chinese food and culture, Chef Chan is ever willing to share his expertise and knowledge with young, aspiring chefs. His first cookbook, The Art of Taste: Secrets of the Cantonese Kithcen (Chinese edition) also won the Best Chef Cookbook award at the prestigious 2003 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Three years ago, Chef Chan ventured out on his own - the Chef Chan's Restaurant is just across the road from the famous Raffles Hotel. Despite its imposing, sombre interior with black ebony walls, grey-clad tables and ornate Chinese partitions, any doom and gloom feeling is quickly dispelled by tall, soaring red columns upfront and rows of traditional Chinese lanterns painted with delicate pink lotuses that hung overhead. The restaurant also showcases media articles and photographs of Chef Chan’s halcyon days in the hotel industry and his personal collection of Chinese antique furniture and decorative pieces including an ancient horse carriage and tall imposing vases.
The cavernous main dining hall, festooned with scalloped red buntings and huge glass showcases of quaint Chinese wedding attire, is designed to cater to large group bookings, wedding banquets and formal dinners.
Chef Chan’s popularity with ordinary and VIP customers lie in his simple yet masterfully prepared dishes. His signature dish, Shark’s Fin with Braised Superior Stock and Crab Roe (RMS$26 per bowl) is the perfect epitome of his inimitable skills, immense pride and passion in doing things just right. With a rich and flavourful stock, this classical delight is faultless, redolent with thick strands of translucent shark’s fin, creamy orange-hued crab roe and chunks of crabmeat.
Another highly sought-after specialty of his is Sautéed Beef with Snow Peas and Celery (S$20) in Black Pepper Sauce. The cubed beef, marbled with just a little fat, yielded an unbelievably melt-in-the-mouth tenderness with the robust peppery sauce heightening the meat’s full-bodied flavour. Sliced celery, green pepper and snow peas added crunch and imparted their own delicate nuances.
His famous Crispy Roast Chicken (S$28 for half portion) took Chef Chan six years to perfect. Its painstaking preparation requires the chicken to be hand-held over a wok whilst hot oil is carefully ladelled over it to ensure the skin turns out crisp and crackly. Yet the chicken meat remains succulent and juicy inside – superbly exquisite when accompanied by a dash of flavoured salt or the restaurant’s piquant homemade chilli dip.
Other outstanding specialties that should satisfy even the most discerning gourmands include Nanjing Salted Duck, Baked Crispy Fresh Prawns with Spices and Prawn Balls stuffed with Pate and Wine amongst others.
Dim Sum, another of Chef Chan’s forte, is available for lunch daily. Relish the exceptional Hong Kong ‘Por Lor’ Buns (S$3.80) comprising cottony-soft buns with their sweet, crusty tops and delicately sweet custard filling. Baked Egg Tarts (S$6) is another irresistible staple, memorable for the tarts’ impossibly thin layer of flaky puff pastry and egg custard, mildly infused with ginger juice.
On your next trip to Singapore, be sure to visit Chef Chan’s Restaurant for an incomparable dining experience.
CHEF CHAN’S RESTAURANT (non-halal)
331 North Bridge Road
#01-02 & 01-05/08 Odeon Towers
Reservations: 65-6250 3363/4
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