Tuk Weng Lee

The head chef at The Oriental, a Malaysian restaurant overlooking the canals by The Mailbox, tells us about how his mother inspired him to cook

Tell me about your cooking

 At The Oriental, we celebrate the diversity of Oriental food culture. Our cuisine is inspired by the street and native foods of Malaysia, Thailand and China, and offers people the chance to experience the variety and incredible depth of exotic flavours native to this beautiful part of the world. The most important aspect in any cooking, in my opinion, is the ingredients. They have to be fresh and of a very high quality. All our cooking needs extreme attention so that we can deliver the best flavours through our dishes.

How did you become a chef?

 I started cooking from a very young age as my mother had a passion for it and instilled a love of food in me. Also at that age, I was getting into trouble with my friends and so she realised that cooking would be a good way out for me. I completed my chef training in Kuala Lumpur and was given the opportunity to come and work in the UK. I haven’t looked back since.

Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?

 Honestly, I believe that the world’s best chef is my mother. Whenever I go back to Malaysia and eat her food it gives me 110% satisfaction. Plus, she inspires me with her use of ingredients, which I reflect in my cooking at the restaurant. I can’t say about the best chef in Birmingham, there are many great chefs who are masters within their own type of cuisine.

Is the customer always right?

 That is a difficult one. All I have to say is thank goodness I don’t have to be front of house. To be fair, I am pretty mellow, so if a customer does query my cooking or one of my dishes, I always personally like to receive their feedback. Overall though, the customer has to know that in our restaurant we try our best and always offer flexibility, but once the customer begins to take advantage, our manager definitely draws a line.

What’s the best thing about being a chef?

 I love that I can delight the customers with my skills. At The Oriental, we receive guests of all nationalities from tourists to people from the Malaysian, Thai and Chinese community. I always work to the best of my ability and to sharing my creations with such a wide breadth of people is what motivates me every day.

What’s the worst thing about being a chef?

 The stress, the heat and the hours. To be honest, I’m used to it now, after working in this trade for over 15 years.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?

 I would like to have been a pilot because I used to have an atlas as a child and dreamt about travelling the world. Instead I take people to different destinations with my food.

What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?

 I would definitely recommend the Malaysian Beef Rendang. The aromas and sensations have a hint of curry, but are not too overpowering for the palate.

Recipe: Noodles with shredded lamb

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz thread vermicelli noodles
  • 7 oz lean boneless lamb such as fillet or leg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 spring onions, green only, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Method:

  1. Place the noodles into a bowl and pour over boiling water, let them soak for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Pour into a colander, rinse with cold water, allow to drain and set aside.
  3. Cut the lamb into thin strips.
  4. In a bowl mix the beaten egg, water, corn flour and salt before adding the lamb.
  5. Stir around in the mixture until all the meat is well coated and allow to marinade for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6.  Heat the oil in a wok until smoking, then add the lamb and stir fry for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add the soy sauce and spring onions and stir fry for a further minute.
  8. Add the rice wine or sherry, the chicken stock, the sesame oil and the noodles and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  9. Serve in individual bowls or on a large warmed platter for sharing