Born and raised in Ipoh, a city that is well known for its local delicacies and restaurants, Chef Alexander Chong has dedicated over 20 years of his life to culinary arts. He began his career as a sous chef at Amara Singapore in 1996.
With his passion for pursuing a great career in the culinary industry, Chef Alexander has travelled to various countries, including Vietnam, Singapore, China and the Philippines to grasp and understand different cultures and cooking techniques. He believes that if one pours one’s heart and soul into cooking, he/she will be able to create an incredible menu.
Although we were unable to meet Chef Alexander face to face due to the pandemic, it was our honour to interview him online.
CNY Bonus Questions:
Q1. With the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, many people were stuck in a situation where they were not allowed to go back to their hometown to celebrate the Chinese New Year. How did you spend your time during the Chinese New Year?
Alex: “Most of the time, I don’t get to spend my Chinese New Year with my family. As a chef, you will still have to work during the festive seasons. Hence, to me, there is no difference between able or unable to go back to my hometown during CNY. In the case of working, our concept has changed to adapt to the pandemic situation and we have shifted towards the “mobile kitchen concept”. So, I
spent this year’s Chinese New Year working in my guest’s house, where I prepared cuisines to my guests.
Q2. If you get the chance to celebrate Chinese New Year with your family, do you cook for them or do you let them handle the cooking themselves?
Alex: “Whenever I’m back home, I don’t usually cook since I wish to enjoy my family’s cooking.”
Q3. If you could choose two countries for a cuisine fusion, what would they be? And why?
Alex: “Most people might think that fusion cuisine resembles cuisines from more than two countries. Personally, I think that South-East Asian cuisines have huge potential for innovative and interesting dishes. However, a chef has to know how to skilfully adapt to the ingredients, as well as retain the core flavour of the dish. I don’t consider my cooking style as a fusion, rather I’d prefer to call it contemporary Asian Cuisine.”
Q4. As a culinary consultant, what is your favourite dish that you have created so far? Was there any story or inspiration behind it?
Alex: “As a culinary consultant as well as an executive chef in various international hotels. I believe that every signature dish requires a backstory. I tend to get inspiration from the country’s local food culture, or the client company’s culture. An example was when I was working in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: Banh Mi, which is a combination of French, Vietnamese cuisine, where a French baguette
was used in conjunction with fillings inspired by Vietnamese cuisine. I’ve kept the original baguette and added my twist in the filling which resulted in a really delicious pork curry assorted with local herbs that became really popular.”
Q5. Are there any quotes you live by?
Alex: “There is no such thing as a ‘one-man show’ in any organization. Everyone in the kitchen has his/her own values and tasks. It is our teamwork that forms our success.”
Q6. If you could choose only one dessert to eat forever, what would it be?
Alex: “I am not a dessert lover, but if I had to choose, it would be durian dessert because I love to eat durian.”
Q7. In your experiences working in other countries, what is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Alex: “The biggest challenge I’ve faced especially in other countries would definitely be communication issues due to the language barrier. When you work in the kitchen, communication is essential and it can be a challenge to communicate with my team due to language barriers.”
Q8. Of all the countries you have travelled to, which country would be your favourite when it comes to food?
Alex: “To be honest, it’s really difficult to choose a favourite since I believe that every country has its own merits in their cuisine. I’d say as long as there’s mutual respect as well as an understanding of the local culture, I enjoy the local delicacies of every country that I have worked in.”
Q9. During your working in other countries, which country had the greatest impact on you? How did it impact you?
Alex: “Aside from China, Vietnam had the greatest impact on me since the locals have really similar cultures compared to Malaysian Chinese, notably the language. The local Chinese in Vietnam surprisingly shared the same dialect of Chinese as the Malaysian Chinese counterpart (Cantonese). During my time in Vietnam, I felt very comfortable as I communicated primarily with my Chinese kitchen in Cantonese and English.”
Q10. What is the moment you are most proud of in your career?
Alex: “One of the proudest, enjoyable moments in my career was watching the fruits of my labour come into fruition where I coached Vietnam’s young national team in the Asian Tiger 2019 into the Gold Medal.”
Q11. What would be your favourite local restaurant?
Alex: “A local Chinese restaurant near where I lived, Mun Choong 民众酒楼 which tastes reminiscent of my childhood."
511-517, Jalan Pasir Puteh,
Taman Camay, 31650 Ipoh,
Q12.What would be a piece of great advice or tip to give for fresh culinary graduates or junior chefs?
Alex: "Being a chef, the working hours are tedious and tough. It’s also nowhere as near as glamorous as it looks like on TV. My advice for fresh culinary graduates is, a cookbook only provides you a guide and is not the full answer to everything. You need to continuously accept and learn from failure, and note that what is taught in school is vastly different compared to a real kitchen setting. Understand
the fundamentals and work hard and smart. Working smart also doesn’t always mean that you need to put in more hours than everyone else."
To end off the meeting with a good note, we took a memorable photo!