Central's Melting Pot of Unique Flavours
January 16, 2017 | BY Hong Kong Tatler Dining
Phillip Kun-Young Pak, executive chef of CÉ LA VI, drew on his Korean heritage and training to create the restaurant's fusion menu
The views are pretty impressive from CÉ LA VI, located on the 25th floor of Lan Kwai Fong’s California Tower, and its menu is just as compelling. Signature dishes combine the flavours of Korean, Japanese and other Asian cuisines with Western techniques and innovative presentation—and the result is modern Asian fusion at its best.
Creating this line-up was a task well-suited to Korean-American executive chef Phillip Kun-Young Pak, whose background in Asian haute cuisine is writ large on the menu. Pak’s parents ran a Korean fusion restaurant in Colorado, where he grew up, and he developed an interest in good food from an early age. His own cooking career began at 17, when he took a job at a local sushi restaurant, starting as a kitchen hand and gradually becoming more involved in food preparation. “I found that I loved it,” he says. “I loved making things for guests, and making them happy.”
Pak’s culinary education was taken to the next level when he moved on to Nobu restaurants in the ski resorts of Vail and Aspen. “I always wanted to learn different styles from different chefs, and this was the perfect opportunity,” he says. It was also an opportunity to experience cooking for the type of discerning and demanding customers he would encounter in his next job.
That job at CÉ LA VI started in April 2015, and it was the first time Pak had lived in Asia. “It was a culture shock, coming from Colorado,” he says. “The dining scene here is kind of crazy. There are a lot of good restaurants here, and so many great chefs.”
The competitive environment motivated Pak to aim even higher and he did so by bringing his Korean ancestry to the fore when designing the menu. “I grew up eating Korean food, and a lot of people in Hong Kong love it, so I started to incorporate Korean flavours like green chilli paste and kimchi into dishes,” he says.
One of those dishes, Hanwoo beef, is his most popular. It’s made from the highest grade of Korean beef and is served simply with assorted sauces and Maldon salt. Pak says it gets the most positive feedback of anything on the menu. Pak’s Nobu heritage is in evidence in his other signature main, Alaskan black cod with Saikyo miso and negi onions. “When I first moved to Hong Kong I tasted black cod at other places and thought I could do it better,” he says, adding that he marinates the cod for two to three days to get the right sweet-salty flavour.
"I grew up eating Korean food, and a lot of people in Hong Kong love it, so I started to incorporate Korean flavours like green chilli paste and kimchi into dishes" ~ Phillip Pak
When it comes to dessert, the most popular by far is Matcha, which inverts a more predictable combination by pairing a molten green tea tart with Valrhona Manjari chocolate ice cream.
And there will be more surprises in February when Pak launches the annual update to the CÉ LA VI menu—expect a bigger emphasis on creative flavour combinations and seasonal ingredients, and more vegetarian options.
CÉ LA VI, 25/F California Tower, 32 D'Aguilar Street, Central; +852 3700 2300
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Hong Kong Tatler
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