Chef at Café Landmark
Michelin Starred Chef
My name is Simson Kwan. I’m Chef at CAFÉ LANDMARK. This café is located in a premium Hong Kong shopping mall with the same name, where time runs faster than usually. This café is also filled with food enjoyment!
But I would like to tell you my story first, not boring as it might usually be, but an interesting one.
I was born in January 1955, and it means that I’m almost 60. This is really a lot, but I know for sure that there are tons of things ahead of me. I’ve never travelled far from home and have achieved considerable success here. But my childhood was not that prosperous. I grew up on a farm raising pigs, geese and chickens. My family was not rich. We used to produce preserved meat like «lap cheong» (Chinese sausages). But we were more known for the sea salt preserved ducks.
It was due to one of such ducks that I got my first valuable lesson in culinary.
I was the oldest child, that’s why it was me who started helping our father in the family business. My sister and two brothers could only babble or played with their toys, and I was already my father’s cool assistant.
At that time, I had no faith in culinary traditions and wanted to experiment. I tried to produce preserved duck using coarse rock salt instead of sea salt, and I also changed a few more things. My father said the duck wouldn’t taste good, but why should I listen to his advice? I made everything by myself, because I thought I was grown-up, self-sufficient and single-minded. Of course, the duck tasted bad, so I’ve never defied my father since then. Even nowadays, I’m still very skilled in marinating and preserving products.
Lesson 1: One shall respect traditions that are handed down from generation to generation, and try not to ponce around.
I have been cooking for more than 40 years now. During this time, some people manage to travel to space, get 3 divorces, remaining alone with no one but only a Labrador puppy by their side.
I started working when I was very young, and I can’t say I had much choice. At the age of 13, I was ‘two-in-one’: a textile machine technician during the day and a common pupil in the evening. There was a girl in our class… And here you might expect a sad love story, but I would disappoint you. Her father had a restaurant in New York, and she was rather talkative, so she told us about it. She talked about prospects, other living standards and opportunities. I think you understand that those talks made me wonder about restaurant business. 8 more guys from our class thought about this as well. Perhaps, that girl was really attractive and charismatic, because I can’t think of any other reason of such a great interest.
Eventually, 9 boys from our class took cooking classes. After some time, everyone gave up except me. Someone started working at that textile factory, someone became a lawyer, and someone just dropped out of my view.
I was the only one who persisted. At 18, I became a senior Chef in a Western restaurant, teaching others how to cook. Thank you, the girl in my class! Maybe, I’m a bit late, but perhaps she would read this one day.
I joined Maxim’s Caterers Ltd in 1977 as a sandwich chef. It might not sound that significant, but in 4 years I had already become an Assistant Executive Chef, and I was fully in charge of the kitchen as Executive Sous Chef in 1986.
Of course, I omitted a lot of important stages in my story. It sounds so simple: I got this and that… But I think you understand that success doesn’t come easy. I had to work hard and be determined, but it could be said about many other people, I think.
All the more, apart from work in the restaurant, I managed outside catering services of the company: the grand opening of Hong Kong International Airport, the launch event for the Tsing Ma Bridge (the world’s ninth-longest span suspension bridge!), and the Airport Express. And there were lots of other posh events, related to slightly known in the world brands: Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent. I provided catering for them.
These are well-known names, but I always remember about the beginning of my path. Every day, I still try – during and after work – to become a better Chef. I believe that I can improve the dishes which are already popular in the restaurant.
In 1990, I went to Thailand. I thought I would impress local Thai Chef with 70-year experience. 70. Years. Of experience. Can you imagine this?
She was famous and fabulous. I expected something new and surprising from her! But… my first lesson was to chop garlic. ‘What?’ — my expression was. This should be a piece of cake!
Feeling proud and a bit surprised, I chopped garlic. She took a look at my garlic and threw it into the trash. Something crumpled inside of me, and I understood I was mistaken thinking I knew how to chop garlic. I had no idea what had gone wrong.
She picked up a knife and demonstrated. It was jaw dropping to see each piece of the garlic be a finely chopped square, and all pieces were consistent in size. They were the work of mastery knife skill and looked premium in presentation.
It was, put it mildly, a humbling experience. I spent three hours practising. Perhaps, it was the longest garlic chopping experience in my life.
Lesson 2: One should never stop learning.
I’m not very picky. I don’t have a favourite dish, or dish that I don’t like at all. I only eat things that taste good, ha-ha. Whenever I eat out with friends, they always remind me: «Calm down! We’re just relaxing, and not doing food tasting.” It’s just that Chef will never eat bad food.
I used to like soccer when I was young (it’s not that I’m saying I’m old, of course…). I play golf now. I also have much curiosity on different things: Chinese medicine, nutrition, Chinese fortune telling, tarot cards and acupunctures.
An all-round man I am with tarot cards in his pocket and several nutrition books on a shelf. Why not?
And what is more… I have a daughter. But she’s too cherished for words.
I would give the following advice to readers of the blog: Use the “brain” to cook instead of your “hands”. Think about the taste and techniques wherever you go and whenever you eat. Learn, adapt, improve and modify.
My second advice to readers is to eat with your “heart”! And truly experience dishes from all cuisines around the world. It will enrich you.
The food and beverage industry has been commercializing very rapidly, depriving this business of its soul. And I don’t want this to happen. That’s why, I try to preserve my chef individuality and creativity. When the time comes, I’ll write a book about my experience to pass on the wisdom to the new chef generations. It’s very important to remember that everything is done with one goal – to enjoy food!
The dish in the photo is Lobster Linguine. This is our signature culinary delight and I strongly recommend tasting it. The dish has been around since it was first cooked in 1985, but the recipe has been ever upgrading. And now it is simply perfect. The Boston lobster is done just right and out of the shell, the pasta has perfect al dente texture. It took me half a year to achieve this result. The guests adore this dish! They order it even at tea time.
The Landmark York House, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2526 4200
CAFÉ LANDMARK is an exclusive restaurant located in a fashionable Hong Kong shopping mall named LANDMARK. This prominent restaurant is a marriage of new chic and classic sophistication! Tourists or local celebrities, natural day or warm night light. Hong Kong signatures or Western fusion cuisines. Incredible delight with each piece of food!