Originating from Ipoh, Malaysia, Chef Christopher Chai cut his teeth working in world-famous kitchens across Singapore including Crystal Jade and Mandarin Oriental. A master of Chinese Cantonese cooking, Chef Christopher Chai excels in adopting local tastes and preferences in executing his distinctive style of Chinese comfort cuisine.
E: How long have you been with Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta, how did you end up here?
Christopher: In total, I have been with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts group for eight years. I worked here initially from 2008 to 2010 before working in Manila, the Philippines. I came back in 2014 and have been here ever since.
E: Which places has your career taken you to? Do you have a favourite?
C: I worked in Singapore in the early 90s before taking up an opportunity to work in a private restaurant in the Hong Kong Star Cruise. Since then I have worked in Jakarta as well as the Philippines. In my years of travelling, I have worked in various five-starred establishments such as the Tung Lok group, Mandarin Oriental, Crystal Jade and of course, Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta. If I have to pick a favourite, it would be Jakarta!
E: Why did you become a chef? Was it always your passion?
C: That’s a good question. I think some of my earliest memories involve helping out in the family kitchen. I was always fascinated with food and I always helped my mother prepare meals for our family. We had a simple life, but we were always content with what we had.
E: What’s your specialty dish? Do you mind sharing the story behind it?
C: If I have to pick a dish it would be Nasi Goreng Ipoh. It’s a dish straight out of my childhood and it always reminds me of my home back in Ipoh. I have taken the liberty of improvising with the dish, such as utilising two kinds of salted fish and adjusting the recipe to suit local palates.
E: In your opinion, what’s the most important quality for a chef?
C: I think the most important thing is to be passionate about your job and using quality, fresh local ingredients. It is important to talk to your guests as well and constantly learn from their feedback so you can keep improving.
E: Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how you dealt with it.
C: I think one difficulty I have faced over the years here is sourcing ingredients. Ideally, I would like to use quality ingredients and I would rather not compromise the authenticity of the dish. There are some ingredients for which I cannot find alternatives, such as Chinese rice wine and sauces. As a work around, I have to figure out alternatives to ensure that the taste is as similar to the original as possible.
E: What part of your job do you love?
C: I consider myself lucky that I love every aspect of my job! I love testing and creating new menus to delight our guests.
E: Where do you get inspiration for your dishes?
C: I get inspiration from my travels and from visiting various restaurants and hotels in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. When I try something new and interesting, I love recreating the dish and putting my own twist on it.
E: What do you do away from work?
C: Family is very important to me. Any time outside work is quality family time. I will send my daughter to school and cook for my family. I also like to swim in the morning on my days off, it is very peaceful.
E: Any exciting future plans we can look forward to in 2018?
C: We are planning new additions to JIA’s menu, you will hear about soon enough. JIA has turned one year this January and we have received exciting feedback from our customers. To commemorate the coming Chinese New Year, we will be unveiling new selections and specialties for the all-you-can-eat dim sum and à la carte menu.
E: Any words of advice for those looking to work in the industry?
C: If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to be patient. If you want to work in the kitchen, your learning journey is a long and difficult one. I started off washing vegetables and cutting fish and it took me decades to become a chef.
E: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be working as now?
C: That’s a really tricky question. I love food you see, I don’t think I could spend my life doing something else. Maybe I’d be a restaurateur?
Ipoh Special Two Salted Fish Fried Rice
- 200g cooked rice, chilled
- 50g salted fish, diced
- 50g Medanese salted fish
- 50g string beans, chopped
- 50g bean sprouts
- 30g shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 chicken egg
- 40g shrimp paste
- 1 tsp chicken bouillon powder
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 30g leek or spring onion, thinly sliced
- Heat oil in a wok until hot, fry both kinds of salted fish until crisp and golden, set aside.
- In another pan, heat more oil and fry shallot till crisp, remove from oil and set aside.
- With the same oil, sautée string beans and bean sprouts, remove from oil and set aside.
- With the same oil, sautée egg until set.
- Add in rice, shrimp paste, soya sauce and chicken bouillon powder and stir fry to combine.
- Add in salted fish, fried shallot, sautéed string beans and bean sprouts and stir fry till fragrant.
- Once cooked, garnish with sliced leek and serve.
Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta
Jalan Jend. Sudirman
Jakarta 10220, Indonesia
T: (+62) 2129229999