|Susur Lee is cooking at Empire May 1.|
Lee, who makes his home in Toronto, operates two restaurants there: Lee and Bent. He and two of his three sons opened the latter last September, naming the restaurant after his wife, Brenda Bent. His other hot spot is the high-end Chinois by Susur Lee in Hotel Michael in Singapore.
Those destinations a little too far for you to reach? Well on Wednesday, May 1 Lee will join executive chef Kevin Long at Empire Restaurant & Lounge in the Seaport District to present a six-course menu featuring dishes he’s created from his world travels. The evening begins with passed hors d’oeuvres by Long, with the sit-down dinner to follow. The menu is posted below (7 PM; tickets are $100 each, tax and gratuity are included; $140 includes wine pairings; click here to order your tickets; 617-295-0001).
Lee graciously took time to chat with us about next week's dinner at Empire and his recent travels, but here's some background to start.
Born in Hong Kong, Lee started his culinary career as an apprentice at Hong Kong’s renowned Peninsula Hotel at the age of 16. Last fall he gave a TedTalk explaining his passion for the culture of food and how it’s expressed through his cuisine. He credits his father, who took him out to eat often, with helping instill his passion for food.
Lee loves the intensity of TV competition. He tied with Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and he was a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters. He’s been a guest on Ming Tsai’s East Meets West show as well.
Zagat: We understand you just got back from the 2013 World Gourmet Summit in Singapore, where you gave a cooking demo and where restaurateurs from the world's most high-end restaurants gather.
Susur Lee: It’s the greatest event - really, really, really amazing. You get three-star Michelin chefs from Europe, China, all over. It inspired me to change my menu at Chinois. I talked to chef Ken, my chef de cuisine there, who's classically trained in Chinese cooking. Sometimes I bring a western idea to him and he shares the eastern side. He’s been with me for the past 14-15 years and knows exactly what I need, and I know exactly what he can do.
Z: What was or is the most exciting aspect of Singapore?
SL: Singapore is like a spice trail, like the spices that start from Asia to the west, and west to east. You can go to the local hawker food centers and order at least 20-30 different items, and get a little bit of everything. You can taste around Asia - Thailand, Philippines, China - north and south. Singaporeans spend time shopping and eating. They love to talk about food all the time.
Z: What kind of ingredients are you into these days?
SL: There’s a Malaysian ginger flower, with a floral flavor - like between jasmine and ginger. I’m not bringing it to Boston, it’s not available. But I am bringing calamansi lime, it’s a cross between a tangerine, lemon and lime. It's a great citrus fruit.
Z: So, you’ve been on Top Chef: Masters and Iron Chef. What do you get from cooking on TV that you don’t get from cooking in your restaurants?
SL: There are unusual circumstances. It [comes down to] the things reflecting yourself, things I’ve learned, things I love to cook. You can compete and you’re not talking about business. Mentally, creatively, it’s like an individual sport. It’s like playing tennis all by yourself. I love that, and love that it reflects mentally where you’re at.
Z: Do you play tennis?
SL: Yes! My whole family plays tennis.
Z: We’re excited to have you back in Boston.
SL: I love Boston. I’ve been many times. I have great friends like Ken Oringer, Ming and some other chefs, Jody Adams. It reminds me of Toronto - good food, great seafood, a lot of great ingredients. It’s such an educated city. I wrote the menu based on my journey, places where I’ve traveled - the flavors from east to west, so it’s very well rounded.
Z: You’re probably aware you’re coming to a city that’s been hurt by the recent bombings, but not beaten down; we’re a city that’s healing.
SL: When I was in Singapore, I was like, ‘Is it real, is it not real?’ You question yourself. I’m very sorry what happened to your city. Going on shows strength. We have spirit, and those are the things - I always believe in that. I’m hoping this dinner will bring people better spirit and peace.
Menu for May 1, 2013
Salmon Salad, Togarashi, Seared Sushi Rice
Pi Dan Tofu on Spoons
Pork Sung, Minced Ginger, Local Silken Tofu
Asparagus Tempura Yuzu, Virgin Olive Oil, Peppers
Steamed Corn Custard
Lobster, Scallion, Soft Egg Whites
Susur Lee's Dinner Menu
Seared Japanese-Style Black Pepper Beef Tataki
King Crab, Beer & Cheese Crouton
Foie Gras & Chicken Pâté with Champagne Gelée
Onion Marmalade, Chinese Olive Brioche Crouton, Susur’s Ice Syrup
Roasted Scallop Thailandaise
On The Half Shell
Granitee of Jackfruit & Pineapple
Fresh Mangosteen, Thai Basil
Cantonese Marinated Squab Breast
Wild Flower Honey, Chili, Shallot Glaze
Ume Plum, Dim Sum Taro Cake
Vanilla Panna Cotta
Passion Fruit & Apricot Purée
Pineapple Raspberry Ravioli