A chef’s perspective

The luxe interior of Yun House.

Jimmy Wong’s chef career has taken him from his home in Hong Kong to Singapore, China and now, Malaysia.

Currently the executive chef at Yun House in Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, he says he loves Malaysia.

“My wife comes over from Singapore to eat durian and get a massage!” The chef indulges his wife who is Singaporean, and both of them would make the trip to Johor Baru to do this when he’s on his leave.

After more than three decades of cooking for other people, Wong says his views and end game have totally about-turned.

“When I was young, it was all about making money and getting rich. Now, I just want to be happy and enjoy what I do.”

Wong, 56, did not start his culinary career right after leaving school. He landed his first job as an office boy when he was 19. Just three months into it, he realised that he didn’t really like it and became a delivery man instead.

It was only at his third try in the job market that he found work in a restaurant, Lei Garden, in Hong Kong. There, he stayed on for eight years, learning everything he could.

Wong in his element at the Yun House kitchen.Wong in his element at the Yun House kitchen.

“I did everything, including wash my senior colleagues’ shorts and singlets! It was the norm for juniors to do such tasks those days.”

When Singapore opened its first Lei Garden, which had earned a reputation as Asia’s premier restaurant group, he was sent there to help out. His responsibility then was mainly washing and cooking shark’s fin in the steamer section of the restaurant.

After two years, he went up the ranks and become its executive sous chef. He stayed at Lei Gardens for nearly five years before moving on to Marina Mandarin Hotel in 1995.

Two years later, he joined the Pine Tree Club where he was promoted to executive chef and stayed for nine years, his longest stint before joining Singapore Island Club for another five years.

After Singapore, he went to China as the Ritz Carlton Beijing beckoned.

“I couldn’t stand the weather there as it was so cold and dry, and there was constant traffic congestion. My wife didn’t like Beijing, so I joined Shenzen Shangri-La where I worked for five years,” he says.

Wong’s two children live and work in Singapore, and his daughter asked him to return. While in Shenzen, he had a few job offers in Singapore and his daughter replied on his behalf to St Regis Singapore, which was how he ended up coming back to this part of the world.

“It was very busy as the restaurant was always packed. But F&B in Singapore was very challenging.

I didn’t have enough people working in the kitchen with me and getting more staff was not easy. So I had to keep the menu simple and churn out easy dishes as the food had to go out fast,” he adds.

Four Seasons Combination Platter. — Photos: AINA AMIRAH/The StarFour Seasons Combination Platter. — Photos: AINA AMIRAH/The Star

At Yun House, he has learnt to be creative with seafood as the restaurant is pork-free.

Cantonese cuisine is renowned for its soups, so he would harness the natural sweetness and flavours of chicken, dried scallops, pau sum (American ginseng) and shark’s fin. Wong doesn’t believe in holding back on ingredients.

“If you put your heart into cooking, you can’t go wrong.”

He also learnt a lot about cooking healthy during his stint at the Ritz Carlton Beijing.

“My boss was inclined towards healthy eating, and I used to spend one day a week in a Beijing library looking up recipes in cookbooks.

I would boil down two chickens just to make two bowls of soup. You might think it strange but people in Beijing eat their fruits warm, not cold from the fridge. And they eat them before a meal, not after,” he explains.

Food for his boss was mostly steamed.

“He doesn’t eat anything deep-fried. He preferred dishes like chicken soup, steamed fish and por choy (spinach) with egg.”

Wong himself practises healthy eating too. An ideal meal for him would be a bowl of noodles with fish and close to 120g of green vegetables, which is a must for him.

The fish, ideally, should be from the sea, and he advocates black vinegar as a dip rather than soy sauce. He also avoids eating too much chilli.

“I don’t go for expensive things. Given half a choice, I’ll go for street food such as the curry fishhead in Pudu (KL).”

The view from Yun House overlooking the KLCC Park.The view from Yun House overlooking the KLCC Park.

Back home in Singapore, he would sometimes cook with charcoal on the balcony of his flat.

“I would boil the soup for two hours. Hong Kong people will die for soup! They want their skin to get moist and nice!”

Happiness matters for the chef and once in a while, he drinks beer and watches football “as there’s no one to play mahjong with.” When in Singapore, he plays mahjong with his mother-in-law and “lose to her.”

His mantra is pretty simple – eat healthy and well, get a good massage and exercise round the KLCC Park – that’s all Wong needs to keep him happy at his job in Yun House where he’s been since 2018 when the hotel first opened.

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