Weekend with My Culinary Hero - Susur Lee


This past weekend I had the good fortune to work with one of my culinary heroes Chef Susur Lee.  He's renowned for his modern Asian cuisine.  He blends traditional Chinese dishes with classic French techniques.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to assist him for the Luckyrice Festival.  Luckyrice Festival is an annual weeklong festival celebrating Asian food and culture.  I'm especially pleased to be a part of this wonderful event.

I was scheduled to help Chef Lee for a private cooking demonstration for the American Express premiere members at the Luckyrice Grand Feast event at the Mandarin Oriental.  I met Chef Lee at the prep kitchen which was located at Toy Restaurant in the Gansevoort Hotel.  Executive Chef Doron Wong at Toy was a friend/colleague of Chef Lee so they graciously welcomed Chef Lee to use their kitchen to prep for his events.  I was so impressed with how the kitchen is run at Toy.  Everything was super organized, and as soon as I stepped into the kitchen I felt re-energized and excited.  My first impression of Chef Lee was he is so personable and down-to-earth.  I loved his energy right away.  He was easy to talk to and genuinely interested in what I was saying and my story.  He wanted to know how I got into cooking and where I was from.  We even bantered a little in our native language Cantonese.  Right away, he made me feel at ease.  I told him I originally inquired to work with him at the Dim Sum event on Sunday; however it seems like he has enough help.  He immediately told me he could use my help, and of course there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to work with him the whole weekend.

Once we got to the Mandarin Oriental, Chef hit the ground running.  He has no qualm in getting his hands dirty.  He even made friends around the hotel so he got some last minute ingredients to make his dish even more amazing.  He wanted everything perfect. He personally found a beautiful arrangement to decorate the table. To him, it's not just about putting up a delicious dish. It's about the whole package so he made sure the table was set up properly.  I helped him with whatever he needed.  Then I watched the master work the crowd.  He is so charismatic.  While he finished up with his demo in front of the audience, I helped Chef Wong plated Chef Lee's signature Singapore Slaw dish for the audience to taste.  After the demo, I was happy to attend the Grand Feast to taste all the dishes from the various restaurants.  It was an especially fun event. 

The next day I reported back to the Toy Kitchen to prep for the Dim Sum event.  There were a few of us who were there to help Chef Lee.  We were all assigned different tasks.  I learned a few techniques from Chef as he is so generous to teach us what's the best way or quickest way to do things.  I spent the day wrapping shu mai, prep for the crispy spinach and shrimp dumplings; cooked chorizo to go with the tofu shrimp cake; made shrimp dumplings covered with corn.  Chef also made sure I tasted some of the finished dishes with the sauces he was pairing.  Whatever help Chef needed I just followed his instruction and did the best I could.  At the same time, in my head I kept hearing my favorite instructor Chef Chris says "make it beautiful" which by the way happens every time I'm cooking for an event.

After a long day of prep, we were asked to report back to the kitchen at 8 a.m. sharp the next morning to finish all the dishes, then help transport everything over to the event space which was a few blocks away.  Once we arrived at the space, we set up stations and got ready for service.  I was assigned to expedite which means to communicate to the stations the number of items we needed to send out.  Once the dishes are ready I told the servers which tables they need to send the dishes to.  The team was busy frying and steaming.  We worked together to push all the food out, and everyone was really happy with the dishes we sent.

At the end of the event, Chef thanked us in front of the diners for our help which I found it extremely thoughtful as he didn't have to thank us at all since he is the famed chef people paid to taste his food.  I was truly touched by his humility.  He made me not only want to be a better cook but I was inspired by his modesty.  Throughout the weekend, I saw him constantly asking questions and wanting to learn what other chefs are making or doing really inspired me to keep on learning.  Chef Lee is a true leader as he makes everyone around him feel important and wants to work for him.  This experience not only taught me new techniques as a cook, but it taught me to grow as a cook, I must keep learning.  I sincerely am grateful for this tremendous opportunity.  I have such enormous admiration for Chef Lee, and I hope to work with him again in the future.  In the meantime, I'll have to plan a trip to Toronto to visit his restaurants.





 




4 comments:

  1. What a cool adventure for you! Meeting and working with someone you admire and being part of such a fun event! The food looked fantastic!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Colleen, Such an amazing experience. Truly grateful for the opportunity!

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  2. How fantastic! So great that you got to work with him!

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    1. Thx Kathy, he was such a pleasure to work with!

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