My life in food: Alan Yau, Restaurateur
'So many chefs use excessive fat to enhance flavours. I use herbs and spices'
Thursday 06 December 2012
Alan Yau OBE taught the British to slurp noodles like the Japanese. He opened Wagamama in 1992 and 10 years later he sold the then 26-restaurant chain for £60m. In 2001 he opened Britain’s first Michelin-starred Cantonese, Hakkasan, and later Yauatcha, a dim-sum joint which also has a star. After selling those he turned his attention to Thailand, opening the Busaba Eathai chain and, last month, Naamyaa Café, offering Siam classics and Bangkok street food.
What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?
My least used piece would probably be my Norwalk hydraulic juicer, although I admire the thinking that’s gone into it. But I’m rarely home to eat or cook for myself. The piece of equipment I most make use of is the kettle, for my morning hot water and lemon tea.
If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
I love a good duck and rice from Chinatown – it’s simple, quick and always satisfying. I also often head over to Goldmine on Queensway as the chef there has perfected the craft of cooking Cantonese-style roast duck. Not a small feat, I can assure you.
What do you eat for comfort?
For me, comfort food must have umami characteristics, like dolly noodles or a plate of Japanese curry and rice. Even a bit of parmesan cheese with a glass of Tuscan red will do the trick.
If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
I would definitely have to choose potatoes. I think I’d choose French fries. Done in one of two ways: French-cut skinny fries from Thoumieux in Paris, or the thicker kind found in America at In-N-Out Burger. Each is totally different from the other, but both are addictive.
What’s your desert island recipe?
I would seek inspiration from the father of French cooking, Escoffier. His recipe for duck à l’orange is superb; although he roasts it, I would cook it Cantonese-style in a charcoal duck oven, giving it a slightly more intense and smoky flavour. I once had this at the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. In its heyday, it did a hybrid version of it which was incredible, using a rotisserie and adding orange chutney on the side.
What is your favourite restaurant?
London has a lot of wonderful restaurants, but right now, I would have to say that it is the Ledbury. Brett Graham’s cooking is so innovative and the level of precision, along with the taste and the execution, is simply incredible. Another all-time favourite is River Café. It never lets you down.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
The Ottolenghi series is a perennial favourite, as it is for many, I imagine. Otherwise, David Chang’s quarterly journal of food and writing called Lucky Peach is always a great read.
Who taught you to cook?
My father helped me acquire a taste for good food from a very young age. I do not cook professionally. But I formulate the ideas and work with the chefs to realise each of the dishes.
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