This is an exclusive online series documenting the food that chefs prepare at home.
The restaurant kitchen is so hot, it literally feels like we’re inside an oven. But Chef Ho Boon is oblivious to the sauna-like temperatures in here. He brandishes his ladle with a flourish and stirs and fries like the pro that he is, never once breaking into a sweat.
Ho is the executive chef at Celestial Court, the Sheraton Imperial KL’s revered Chinese restaurant. He worked his way up through pure grind, starting out as a kitchen helper in a local hotel way back in 1982 and slowly moving up the ranks over the years. As the Chinese chef for Celestial Court, he is responsible for planning the restaurant’s overall menu, a task which the hard-working Ho relishes as this gives him the opportunity to get creative.
When a chef is as meticulous and hard-working as Ho, it is literally impossible to imagine him letting his hair down when he cooks at home. Somehow, you can’t quite picture this chef stirring up an instant noodle storm!
“It’s true, whether I am home or in the hotel, I try my best. Even though I don’t have to face guests at home, I still want to present the best dishes for my family. I set high standards for myself and I have to live up to it everywhere,” he says, grinning.
The only difference in the meals he prepares at home is that Ho often trawls the recipes of his childhood and young adulthood, frequently cooking the dishes that his mother and mother-in-law made when he was younger.
“One of them has passed away and the other lives some distance away, so I cook these dishes as a way to remember them,” he says.
Like his mother’s delicious pan-fried white pomfret with ginger and shallot sauce, for instance. The dish has a homey feel, with crispy fried fish and a slightly sweet sauce stealing the show.
“The secret to getting perfectly crispy fish is to deep-fry the fish until it is 75% cooked, then pan-fry until done. And only flip the fish once!” he says, having obviously experimented numerous times in his quest for perfection.
The dish of stewed vegetables in preserved bean curd sauce is another childhood favourite that Ho used to watch his mother make, literally standing by her side as she cooked it. As a result, he realised that the key to getting even, rich flavours in the dish is to stir constantly for 10 to 15 minutes to ensure the bean curd sauce coats the vegetables thoroughly.
Although he enjoys making his childhood favourites for his family (his 19-year-old son is apparently a huge fan of these dishes!), Ho also often treats his family to the dishes that he prepares in the restaurant!
“I apply the same standards at home and in my restaurant. I often even bring my work home! So I’ll bring some ingredients from the restaurant kitchen and cook roughly the same dish at home, so that my family can try my restaurant food. I even portion it out the same way!” he says, with a wink.
FRIED WHITE POMFRET WITH GINGER AND SHALLOT SAUCE
1kg pomfret fish
salt, for marinating fish
1 tbsp oil
100g minced ginger
80g minced shallot
¼ tsp chicken stock powder
60ml soya sauce
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
60g Chinese parsley
60g spring onion
Clean fish thoroughly. Make slits across fish, exposing fish meat. Marinate fish with salt to taste.
Heat up a big wok with enough oil to deep-fry fish. First deep-fry fish until nearly cooked, then remove some oil and and pan-fry fish until crispy and golden brown. Set aside on a plate.
In a wok, add oil. When hot, stir-fry ginger and shallot and add chicken stock and soya sauce and salt and sugar. Cook until the mixture is boiling. Remove from heat.
Pour sauce over cooked fish and garnish with Chinese parsley and spring onion. Serve hot.
STEWED MIXED VEGETABLES IN PRESERVED BEAN CURD SAUCE
80g snap peas
80g button mushrooms
80g straw mushrooms
80g red preserved beancurd
250g Chinese cabbage
10g dry black fungus
15g dry glass noodles
1 tbsp cooking oil
½ tsp sugar
60g gingko nut
Cut the broccoli, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms and black fungus into small pieces, blanch and set aside. Soak the dry glass noodles in water and set aside.
In a wok, add oil. When it’s hot, stir-fry crushed red preserved beancurd and add water and a little bit of sugar. Let it boil and add all the blanched vegetables and gingko nuts. When it is almost cooked, add the glass noodles and stir until fully immersed. Serve hot with white rice.