And it was always the same sweet and sour chicken, Peking duck, chop suey, beef chow mein with egg fried rice or simply steamed. Chinese food for the western palate.
In Hong Kong the windows were full of fatty yellow chicken's feet that made the tourists faces scrunch with disgust. Watching the Chinese 'chef' in one of the small roadside restaurants viciously macerate a chicken with a cleaver left you picking imaginary slivers of bone from between your teeth.
Chinese food has been known around the world for many decades. My Dad was a guest chef in New York 40 years ago and then it was just sweet and sour,agrees the young chef from Singapore. But now people travel a lot and they're more knowledgeable about food.
Sam Leong is one of the starring chefs at the Festival of Taste and now his dishes are keenly sought after but it hasn't been an easy road. Initially Sam's task was to change his own perception of Chinese food and then the perceptions of his customers.
'I remember being in London and people asked me for Peking duck, so I just served them the skin. They complained saying, Where's the meat? I don't just pay for the skin'. In Asia it is just the skin. In Singapore I tried to do fish fillets in the Western way without the bones and then the people complain saying, 'I ordered the whole fish. Where's the head and the tail? Chinese people love sucking the juices. Sam grins and makes wolfish slurping noises.
'Now people are very clever so when they see things they don't know how to make it but they know what it should be like. They're much more knowledgeable about Chinese food.'
Sam started to break down the traditional shared style of eating Chinese food by serving individual portions. His staff resigned complaining that it was just too much work. But by doing individual portions, 2 small pieces of Peking duck or a single fillet of fish he could also lower the prices while maintaining the quality. It was a tough road to walk.
'I just wanted to come out from the circus and do something different. I never give up. Now I use foie gras and caviar to dress up dishes nicely, as a garnish rather than a focus. But my cooking is not fusion, it's modern Chinese cuisine. It's taken over 15 years to get to this point. The Chairman of the Chinese Association once screamed at me, 'Don't destroy Chinese cuisine, you're crazy. But I started to do things differently and am happy that I have been the pioneer of these changes.'
But what is there next for the young rebel who once had the dream of becoming a policeman?'Today you need to have passion, take ownership of your life and have all the right people around you. Opportunities are all around and who knows what might come up.'
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