Samuel Lee was born in Hong Kong, and very quickly became immersed in a world where traditional Chinese cooking was a top priority. The memory of family gatherings around the table, with all the attendant delicious food aromas, inspired him to seek out a career as a chef. He took the traditional catering college route, later joining the team at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Beijing under the tutelage of chef Bobby Lo. This turned out to be a memorable encounter, reigniting a burgeoning – and soon to be all-consuming – passion for cooking. In 2014, he was invited to work in Paris alongside executive chef Christophe Moret (2 Michelin stars, earned at l’Abeille) running Shang Palace, the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Paris. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The first picture that comes into my mind is of my mother cooking in the kitchen. I remember the smell of fried rice, and of pan-fried fish with egg and tomato. For Chinese New Year, the whole family used to gather at our house. There would always be 15 or 20 of us around the table, enjoying food cooked by my mother.
I studied cookery, then at 18 I went out to work. My first job was at the Hong Kong Jockey Club of Beijing, where chef Bobby Lo taught me much more than just technique; he taught me the philosophy of cooking. He showed me that for a chef, attitude is all-important. Stay motivated, always give it your best, and do it all with passion. I went on to work all over China, in Shanghai, Tianjin and Wenzhou. I learned various Chinese cooking styles (there are as many styles in China as there are regions) including Sichuan, Shanghai and Cantonese.
The essence of Cantonese cuisine is to showcase the unique flavours of the ingredients, choosing them carefully and not over-seasoning them. I’m proud that I can introduce French diners to Cantonese food. Coming to Paris is every chef ’s dream, and it’s been a great opportunity for me.
In China, we really only have cheese in the northern regions. Everywhere else, milk is either used as a liquid, or powdered. When I arrived in France, I discovered blue cheese, Camembert and Comté, and I love them! My wife and I often have cheese at home.
When I lived in Hong Kong, I only ever ate one type of cheese, and that was Cheddar. The first time I ate Camembert I found it a bit strong, but after a few tries, I began to see a milder side to it. That’s why I chose it for my recipe. The elegant savoury flavour works well with Chinesestyle desserts, coming through softly on the finish. I wanted to create an element of surprise, so I went for several layers of flavour – rice flour dough, cream, Camembert, mascarpone and fresh fruit. I don’t know any Chinese chefs who would use cheese in their desserts, so this was a good challenge for me. I might add it to my tasting menu.
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