Vanessa Obioha recently stepped into the kitchen with award-winning Chef Chua Kong to capture his culinary skills at Soho Restaurant, Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos
Long before Chef Chua was formally introduced to the highbrow guests at the Intercontinental Hotel’s Soho Chinese Restaurant, they were serenaded with an array of his delicacies. It was a small event to showcase the new chef to the restaurant’s top diners.
A tall dark hostess whose sparkling white teeth would make her a prospective model for a toothpaste brand welcomed the guests before they were swept away by other top personnel of the hotel. Being a Friday evening, the ambience at the restaurant was relaxed and allowed informal conversations flow through. Small talks accompanied with hearty laughter filled the room.
Then the feast began. One-by-one, they were introduced to the amazing flavours curated by the award-winning Malaysian chef.
Neatly dressed waiters paraded invitingly crispy fried prawns with sauce and juicy prawn dumplings in trays. The fried prawns were heavenly. They were crispy outside but very tender and well-flavoured inside. While the guests gulped down their first treat with assorted drinks, Chef Chua and his assistant lured them to more treats.
Displayed artistically on a table in a corner was a colourful bowl of mixed fruit pickles, a plate of long strand potato chips, a bowl of plate-like carved cabbage leaves, a bowl of broccoli, a bowl of peas, and of course an array of sauces to dip in. A bowl of fresh calamaris and vegetables were reserved for a later live cooking by the chef.
Mingling with the guests, Chua urged them to try out the delicacies and offered tips on how he achieved the flavour. He was rewarded with good commentaries, particularly on the pickles. They were tangly sweet. The mixed fruits – cucumber, pawpaw, carrot – were cool and crunchy. The sweetness hardly made it resistible.
The General Manager of the hotel, Karl Hala was at his best at the event. Donning his charm like a tuxedo, he warmed the guests with his admirable geniality, urging them as well to taste the exotic flavours from Chua’s kitchen.
After much smacking of lips and clinking of glasses, he introduced his award-winning Chef Chua Kong to his notable guests.
Tapping his cocktail glass, he spoke in his Austrian accent: “We are so glad that you join us this evening to celebrate our new Chef, Chua Kong, who by the way likes to talk. He’s been to the local markets and knows how to bargain stuff, to find out if we are to get things locally or import them. And also he wants to meet everyone because he wants everyone to eat in his restaurant.”
The Malaysian stepped out, took a bow, while hiding his experienced eyes behind a pair of glasses.
Soho Restaurant marks Chua’s first visit to Africa. It’s not that he has not been offered jobs in the continent but the negative image discouraged him.
Before now, he worked in a Michelin star hotel in New Delhi, India. Chua started his over two decades’ culinary journey in Malaysia before moving to India. In 2006, he won the Chinese Culinary Award.
He joined the Intercontinental Hotel Lagos, over a month ago and has familiarised himself with the local cuisine. “One thing I find out about Nigeria’s cuisine is that it is spicy. They like spicy foods here, even more than in India,” he said.
However, Chua is embracing his new findings with good spirits. Understanding the concept of fusion in cuisines, he has curated recipes that will suit the local palate while projecting a contemporary Chinese restaurant.
His visit to the market helped him to cater to different types of diners. There is something for everyone in Soho Restaurant. Whether you like spicy foods or not, a vegetarian or not, Chef Chua has the perfect menu to make you visit again. He has already created 27 authentic sauces.
“Our cuisine now is a modern Chinese cuisine. These are authentic recipes but with a fusion. Now there’s something different with the decorations. All the dishes are different too. Say, we have chicken with the chicken sauce. Each item on the menu has its own sauce.”
By all indications, Chua is set to revolutionise the Chinese restaurant situated on the second floor of the hotel. Soho has all the traditional settings of a typical restaurant: the dining setting which includes the Sweet Susan for family dining as well as a private dining room; frames of traditional ornaments of the Asian country don the red walls; the cupboard and vases. To show its Asian heritage, the Chinese zodiac signs are inscribed on a corner of the walls.
Chua wasted no time in showing his guests his culinary skills. Setting his pan on fire, he began to sample some of his delicacies. Accompanied by another chef, they set the restaurant aflame with delicious flavours that made the gastronomy journey worthwhile. For the night, he made fried calamaris in a sauce.
The guests watched with interest as Chua handled the pan with dexterity. He stirred, fried, and shook the pans to get the right mix. Then he served his guests in the best combo they deemed best. Additional foods like fried rice, mushroom soups were also available.
Not a few persons went for a second serving; a good testimony that Soho is the new home for tasty and authentic Chinese meals.