In the Kitchen with… Vicky Lau

Vicky Lau, executive chef and owner of two-Michelin starred restaurant Tate Dining Room, chats to Vicki Williams about the link between tradition and innovation in creating new dishes.

Vicky Lau’s background in graphic design shows on every exquisitely plated dish served at Tate Dining Room. In fact, they are some of the most beautifully presented in Hong Kong and worthy of the use of #edibleart.

Serving an innovative mix of French and Chinese cuisines, the food at Tate is an expression of perfectionism and a desire to discover and reimagine new flavours and textures. Her “Ode to” tasting menus – which celebrate one key ingredient across the entire menu – are a perfect example.

She is the recipient of many awards, including Asia’s Best Female Chef given by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2015, and much industry recognition, gaining two Michelin stars for her restaurant in 2021.

When did you decide to become a chef?
After graduating from New York University, I initially embarked on a career in advertising as a graphic designer, which taught me how subtle visual cues can be used to provoke an audience’s response.

Then I found that the culinary arts are very interesting to me, so I enrolled in classes at the Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok and started my journey to become a chef. I like to create beautiful things, and each dish is like presenting a present. I would like my guests to receive each dish like a gift and enjoy eating it.

Who were your biggest influences or mentors as a young chef?
Chef Sebastien Lepinoy from Les Amis in Singapore. He hired me as chef de cuisine for Michelin-starred restaurant Cépage in Hong Kong [now closed]. It was the first restaurant that I joined after changing my career path.

Tell us more about Tate Dining Room. How does it fit in with your cuisine philosophy?
My style of cooking is always a balance between innovation and tradition and East and West. For me innovation always starts with tradition. When creating something ‘new’ I take ideas from various sources, learn from cultures and history, ingredients that I have tasted, texture combinations from pioneers, and stitch all these together into new forms and create something new. That’s how Tate matches with my cuisine philosophy.

Curiosity leads to obsession; our menu is ingredient focused and we do in-depth studies of ingredients, which leads to a final thesis exploring all facets that make up the subject. We enjoy a boundless approach in our cuisine and mainly focus on taste.

We also try our best to offer a culinary experience to guests, trying to educate them on the history and sustainability of ingredients, for an appreciation of ingredients, taste and the story behind them.

Tell me about one of your current signature dishes that you would serve to peers for them to understand more about you as a chef.
An Ode to Crab. It is presented in a dainty box filled with handpicked Japanese Matsuba crab and local flower crab, herbs, century egg mimosa and Ossetra caviar from the House of Kaviari.

Century eggs are a traditional Chinese delicacy. They have an alkaline taste yet a creamy consistency and strong flavour. This dish was created while I was trying to find an ingredient to pair with champagne. Century egg paired surprisingly well, in addition to local flower crab which adds some freshness and sweetness. The dish is a representation of East meets West, which goes with my cooking philosophy – a crossover of Chinese ingredients using French techniques.

Please comment on the future of dining, restaurants or industry trends that you foresee?
I think sustainability will be the future trend in F&B. Sustainability should now be the priority in the design and operation of restaurants. A sustainable restaurant business goes from sourcing in the kitchen and extends to everything we touch inside the restaurant, and that is not only just the ingredients.

For ingredients, we should make smart choices from sustainable farmers, as locally as possible, and also minimise waste in the kitchen. Extending these thoughts into the interior design of restaurants, to the wine, the table decoration, and more importantly, how we teach our guests to be aware of this. As pioneers we also have the responsibility to do that.

What was the first thing you learned to cook? 
Glue from starch. 

What would Bar Talk always find in your fridge? 
Fruit and vegetables. I like to have a healthy diet, which can be challenging given a chef’s long hours. Sometimes I make a simple vegetable soup at home for supper or a nice fruit bowl for breakfast before I start my day.

Where is your favourite place for an after-work wind-down drink and what would you order?
The Diplomat – a good American-style cocktail bar where you can enjoy classic cocktails with innovative twists. My all-time favourite drink here is the Tarling, which uses pandan-infused gin, white port, baking spices, clarified orange juice and coconut water…it is so refreshing and comforting.