At Macau’s Wynn Palace, ‘China’s best chef’ cooks Cantonese cuisine according to the 24 solar terms of the Chinese calendar

More surprising was the news that Tam would leave Wing Lei Palace and create his own concept in the space vacated by Sichuan Moon.

Chef Tam Kwok-fung was at the helm of Wing Lei Palace, at the Wynn Palace Hotel in Macau, before opening Seasons. Photo: Seasons of Chef Tam

To add to the carousel of chef moves, Wilson Fam – the sous chef at Sichuan Moon – will take over Wing Lei Palace (now renamed Lakeview Palace) as executive chef.

He has won so many culinary stars there that it almost doesn’t matter to his fans where he is – because they know from experience that a good meal awaits them with him in the kitchen.

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After all, he led the Jade Dragon team to earn the restaurant a second Michelin star in 2016. When he left City of Dreams for Wynn, he helped Wing Lei Palace achieve a spot on the 50 Best Restaurants list in Asia from 2019 to 2023 and the venue also won its first Michelin star in 2021.

One accolade of Tam’s that isn’t talked about enough is being named the 2023 Chef of the Year by Chinese restaurant guide Black Pearl.

Published by Meituan, China’s shopping platform for retail services including entertainment, dining and delivery, the Black Pearl Restaurant Guide is the mainland China version of the Michelin Guide and is billed as understanding the nuances of Chinese cuisine better from the French Nutrition Guide.

All this means that Tam has been named the best chef in China by the people of China.

At Seasons Tam bases its menus on Cantonese cuisine integrated with the 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar. His dishes are heavily influenced by seasonal ingredients. Photo: Lisa Cam

So now that Tam’s newest Wynn Palace restaurant, Seasons, has opened, anyone with a penchant for Cantonese cuisine should pay close attention.

At its core, the concept of Seasons is based on the traditions of Cantonese cuisine and 24 solar terms of the Chinese calendar.

The 24 solar terms have traditionally been relied upon to provide cues for harvesting, livestock raising, and fishing practices, as well as guides for the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. Basing his cooking on sunny conditions, Tam changes the entire menu every two weeks.

Each of the menus will feature dishes made using the region’s seasonal produce, which may include turnips, figs, monk fruit and watercress. They will be paired with other seasonal products such as lobster, fish and snail.

Tam’s Bird’s Nest in Pipa Tofu is an incredibly labor-intensive dish. Photo: Lisa Cam

Among the menu items are incredibly complex, labor-intensive dishes that require attention to detail and time. Bird’s Nest Pipa Tofu is one such example.

Pipa tofu is named after the shape of the Chinese soup spoon it is usually molded into, which resembles that of tap (Chinese lute).

Traditionally, this is already a complex dish in which a mixture of silken tofu and a binder such as egg white are mixed together, stewed until 80 percent done, then battered and deep-fried.

The difficulty is to keep the shape of such a soft mixture, but not to fry it so much that it loses its fragility.

I want customers to taste the epitome of what the produce has to offer and realize that it is better not only for the palate but also for their body and soul

Tam Kwok-fung in his seasonal menus

“We got a little naughty with this recipe,” Tam says as he describes how his bird’s nest version of pipa tofu is even more complex. “We put a little broth-soaked bird’s nest between two layers of our mixture and then put some julienned Jinhua ham for extra flavor.”

Tam describes the thin layer of batter as “putting a layer of moisturizer on your face.”

For those more familiar with Western recipes, this is the equivalent of inserting a layer of jelly into a crème brûlée, then frying it in the thinnest batter and hoping it doesn’t fall apart in the process.

What’s even more impressive is that this dish is on the seasonal a la carte menu, and the kitchen must be able to pull it off at any point in the service. “We really like to put our foot on our own necks,” notes Tam when asked about the pressure of making this dish on the go.

Tam’s Crunchy Walnut Cream. Photo: Seasons of Chef Tam

Tam also revived a lost recipe from the Qing dynasty. Uoh well was a common street snack in the northern provinces of China and involves mung bean paste that is chilled until frozen, then deep fried.

Tam loves the dish so much that he has created different versions of it for his seasonal menu. During our visit we tried the hairy crab fat version as well as a walnut version that was on the menu at the start of winter.

We were told to eat wo zha within 10 seconds of serving it. “We’ve measured the fat content and the temperature at which it should be fried so that it doesn’t lose its shape but is still slightly cooler than your palate, so when you eat wo zha the center melts in your mouth,” explains the chef.

The walnut version is sweet and tastes similar to a sweet walnut soup, but with a unique texture.

By creating sweet or salty wo zha every two weeks, Tam challenges herself and her team to use different ingredients to achieve the same texture every time.

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Tam describes the balancing and timing of these meals as walking a tightrope. “Any wrong step in any part of the recipe would spell total disaster.”

The chef owes his creativity and innovative spirit to his exposure to different cuisines, especially Italian and Japanese.

“It’s not just my own travels – it’s also cooking for guests in other countries, as well as my time in Thailand,” says Tam, referring to her decade at The Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.

“Absorbing how different cultures treat their ingredients and then translating those philosophies into Cantonese cuisine is my strength,” he says.

Seasons Braised Free Range Chicken with Onion Butter.

Asked why he chose to use the 24 solar terms as the theme for his restaurant, Tam says, “As logistics have advanced over the past few decades, people have come to expect to be able to eat anything at any time.

“It’s not uncommon for me to get a request to make sticky rice with dried meat in the summer, which is possible, but the ingredients just aren’t in season.

“I want customers to taste the epitome of what the products have to offer and realize that it’s not only better for their palate, but also for their body and soul.”

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