I first met Vicky Cheng six years ago at Liberty Private Works, a 16-seat restaurant in a Wellington Street walk-up. Cheng was 25 but already had an impressive pedigree. He had studied at George Brown College in Toronto, where an award was named after him, and had worked in kitchens across North America. Today he is the owner and Executive Chef at Vea, a Michelin-starred restaurant.
How did you discover cooking?
My family are good cooks andI remember being in the kitchen with grandma all the time. I soon started experimenting and never stopped.
How old were you when you set foot in a professional kitchen?
I was 13 or 14, working part-time at the basement sushi bar of an Italian restaurant. It was Toronto’s most talked-about restaurant for Italian fine dining but the basement was more casual. People could come in, eat sushi and listen to live music.
What made you decide to pursue a culinary career?
After high school, everyone wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer but mum told me to pursue what I most enjoyed doing. She pulled together all her resources and put me through George Brown College.
Who are your mentors?
Jason Bangerter was my first mentor and I have a lot to thank him for. He was my first chef and I was with him for more than six years. He now works at one of the best restaurants in Canada, Langdon Hall. The second person is John Higgins, the director of George Brown College. The school put me through a lot of competitions because they believed in me. They took the time to train me before and after service, often after working a 14-hour day.
When did your career take off?
I don’t think a lot of people know but I left Daniel in New York as Chef de Partie. Moving to Hong Kong and going straight to Group Executive Chef was a big opportunity. People said it was too soon. I decided to just do it.
Describe the food at Vea.
It is French-inspired but with a lot of Chinese elements. We try to incorporate a lot of Hong Kong ingredients and different ideas, textures and flavours. You normally won’t find spicy flavours in French cuisine but at Vea we are open to all flavours. We accept sour, spicy, bitter tastes because that is in our culture. The goal is to highlight that.
Tell us about your ingredients?
I enjoy using fine, Chinese-grown products because I feel I can pay homage to my home town and culture. We use mushrooms from Yunnan, sea cucumber and Taiwanese tomatoes. These are delicious products but people are not aware of how good their flavours can be.
Your pasta is great. Would you consider opening an Italian restaurant?
Maybe. Our Egg Raviolo Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta in Truffle Cream Sauce is one of our signature dishes. We recently launched another fresh pasta dish – using Sicilian red prawns, Hokkaido sea urchin and caviar– that has been a hit. You can request any pasta dish you see on my Instagram (@chefvickycheng). Just drop us a message before you come in.
What are your favourite ingredients in the fridge?
I love everything in the onion family – onions, garlic, chives – as well as ginger and chilli.I love aromatics and I’m a fan of spices. These ingredients are so versatile, they can make anything taste good. I also like to have some XO sauce in my fridge; it has so much flavour.
Where do you go to splurge and where do you go to eat cheaply?
I only have Sundays off so, instead of splurging, I prefer to visit the restaurants of other chefs. As for cheap eats, I enjoy the wonton noodles at SamTor in Central as well as Yat Lok for roasted goose back. Most people go for the thighs but it’s the back of the goose where the ribcage traps most of Yat Lok’s signature spice blend.