Monday, April 23, 2018

Duality Series - Chef Pang, French Pastries Extraordinaire and Hakka Cuisine Custodian

Mention french pastries in Singapore and one of the first names to come up will be Antoinette. Chef Pang Kok Keong is the brainchild behind this bastion of French patisseries here, but behind his intricate cakes and sugary creations, there is a faithful Hakka son deep within.

Recognised as the best local baker here, Chef Pang was brought up on a staple of mum's cooking during his childhood days. His fondest food memory being his mum's authentic Hakka leek kueh, which itself is a rarity these days.

Yet, as his passion for cooking grew, he would deviate from his Hakka roots as he enrolled in Shatec and embarked on a journey of western and classic French inspired training.

Nevertheless, his mum remains his biggest inspiration to take up the culinary route, and making gastronomy his calling and career.

Before long, Chef Pang realised that desserts and pastries were, and still his favourite aspects of food and cooking. When asked what drives him to desserts, his answer is simple and purposeful.

His philosophy in baking is that everything has to be precise and exact. as he says you cannot hide any flaw in dessert making.

Discipline, patience and hard work are all requisites to becoming a good baker. And his interest in French cuisine also led him to learning and mastering the finer points of French cooking.

He even spent a short stint in Spain learning from Chef Paco Terroblanca, a renowned name in the world of baking.

This has led him to become the best in the business, and propelled him to not only have a deep respect for the great chefs and bakers of the world, but also to emulate them in his own development.

The perfectionist within Chef Pang has also grounded him to continuously improve on his craft. Never believing that he has reached his apex, his culinary mindset is one where he will keep on learning from anyone from chefs to hawkers.

And it is also why he has also come full circle now as he returns to his Hakka roots with his recent series of heritage food and dishes.

His idea of fusion is not just for gimmicky reasons, but to legitimately update classic dishes for modern audience.

The things that he look for in a good plate of food are not just creative ideas, but the effort, thought and passion put in by a cook. Even if it is a simple plate of hawker food, Chef Pang believes you can tell by eating it if it was made from the heart and soul of a good chef.

And with his recent modern takes on traditional dishes like Lei Cha (Thunder Tea) and Hakka Noodles, he has found a new audience that has long been fans of his French sweets.

Yet, despite this recent success, Chef Pang is still not satisfied to rest on his laurels. In fact, he is even going further in his relentless endeavour to preserve our heritage cuisine.

He has just launched Pang's Hakka Delicacies which are accurate and authentic recreations of long lost Hakka food. And true to Chef Pang's style, it is done so with a certain sense of style and panache.

It is currently sold via Whatsapp ordering and collection behind his Penhas Antoinette outlet. In a way, it is entirely appropriate with it's secret alley/secret supper club attitude, making this seem like an exclusive deal. Which it is.

Those that have savoured his abacus seed offering and leek dumplings will know how close these are to the real thing, as Chef Pang has done a tremendous amount of research to get as close to the original recipes.

These are also very labour intensive, and require every component to be made from scratch. As it is, he does not make a great deal of profit from making his beloved Hakka delicacies.

But money is not the real reason he is doing this. Rather, he is deeply passionate in keeping these decades old recipes alive for a new generation, and hopes that these foods will find a new audience among the younger folks out there.

His mantra to those who are thinking of joining the food brigade is a profound one. "Where do you go if you do not know when you come from?"

Precious words indeed, from a true custodian of his Hakka food legacy.

Written by Ian Low
17 March 2017

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