Tong Chee Hwee

Tong Chee Hwee

Tong Chee Hwee

Inspired by his grandmother's cooking, Tong Chee Hwee reinvents traditional Chinese flavours and techniques with distinctly modern flair. Previously executive chef of the ever-expanding Hakkasan Group, he is known around the world for offering the very best in premium Cantonese cuisine.

Tong Chee Hwee knew from a young age that he wanted to become a chef. Growing up in China his interest in cooking was in large part inspired by his grandmother, who he remembers as being a prolific traditional cook: ‘her dishes were always delicious and they are some of my earliest memories. That’s what made me become a chef.’

His family, who all loved food as much as he did, were supportive of his decision and Tong Chee Hwee began his culinary career at the age of eighteen. Moving to Singapore, Tong Chee Hwee began working at the prestigious Happy Valley restaurant under Cheng Hon Chau. Chef Cheng was known as a master of Cantonese cuisine, and it was under his mentorship that Tong Chee Hwee honed his own skills and techniques. Working under chef Cheng also taught Tong Chee Hwee an important lesson about patience and respect – chef Cheng favoured helping his chefs to learn rather than shouting at them when mistakes were made, a philosophy Tong Chee Hwee still adopts today in his own kitchens.

After fourteen years at both Happy Valley Singapore and its sister restaurant in Kuala Lumpur Tong Chee Hwee moved to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Singapore. It was here that he was discovered by Alan Yau, the UK-based entrepreneur and restauranteur who was on the hunt for a chef with the requisite talent and flair to open his new luxury dining venture in London. Tong Chee Hwee accepted the challenge and moved to England, overseeing the opening of Hakkasan Hanway Place in 2001.

Hakkasan, with its atmospheric interiors designed by Christian Liaigre, quickly gained a reputation as one of London’s most exciting new restaurants. Tong Chee Hwee’s menus, like Liaigre’s design, injected Chinese tradition with a soupçon of modern opulence – think roasted cod with Champagne and honey and prawn toast with foie gras - leading Matthew Norman of the Guardian to brand it ‘the sexiest restaurant in London’. Proving there was a great deal of substance to accompany the restaurant’s style further accolades swiftly followed, including a 2 AA rosettes and a Michelin star in 2003 - the first in the UK to be awarded to a Chinese restaurant.

Tong Chee Hwee’s cooking style can be defined as modern Chinese in as far as the chef seeks to reinvent the old with the new, taking ‘traditional dishes and authentic techniques’ and ‘adding [his own] imaginative twist to it with regards to both style and exquisite presentation.’ The chef draws inspiration from a variety of sources for the modern aspects of his cooking – ‘I’m inspired by all the restaurants I visit and cultures of countries which I travel to’ – while he cites both his beloved grandmother and his mentor chef Cheng as instrumental in his understanding of traditional Chinese flavours and techniques.

Following the success of Hakkasan Hanway Place a sister restaurant, Yauatcha, opened in Soho in 2004 under Tong Chee Hwee’s watchful eye. Specialising in dim sum, tea and patisserie, Yauatcha’s reasonably priced range of small plates and specialist teas made the restaurant as popular as its predecessor, and it was awarded a Michelin star of its own in 2005. In 2010 Tong Chee Hwee became executive head chef for the entire Hakkasan group, overseeing the opening of Hakkasan Mayfair that same year. Popular with local and international glitterati alike, the restaurant offers a ‘Supreme’ menu to cater for its premium clientele with Lobster noodles and Peking duck with Qiandao caviar among the most sought after dishes.

HKK opened in 2012, a fine dining restaurant in a prime Shoreditch location which stands distinct from the rest of the Hakkasan restaurants. While the Hakkasan menus encourage shared eating – the Braised dried whole abalone with morels and sea cucumber on offer at Hakkasan Mayfair serves ten, for example – those coming for dinner at HKK are given the choice of a standard or vegetarian 12 course tasting menu. Dishes are served sequentially with an optional wine and sake flight to go with it, and the style of cooking extends beyond the predominantly Cantonese influenced plates on offer at the other Hakkasan restaurants to incorporate traditional flavours from all over China.

In 2019, chef Tong decided to move on from Hakkasan to seek out the next chapter of his career. He has made a lasting impression on Chinese cuisine in London (and indeed around the world), and we're sure his next position will continue that legacy.