Lifetime Achievement Award 2019: Chef Leung Yiu Tong

His Cantonese food was a reflection of the high ideals of Hong Kong-style restraint and refinement.

April 29, 2019

By Lee Man / Photo: Tanya Goehring

With his wife by his side, chef/owner Leung Yiu Tong (or Uncle Tong, as he is known to his regulars) has been in the restaurant business for over 50 years, delivering incredibly focused dining experiences at Hoi Tong Seafood Restaurant with such consistency that it felt somehow instinctual. 

I once asked Uncle Tong why he continued to work so hard when he had already accomplished so much over a long and distinguished career. He said there would be a day when he would no longer be able to execute to the highest standards, so while he could, he simply wanted to practise his craft. So everyone knew the end was coming, but it was still a shock when Uncle Tong announced he was retiring and that the last meals would be served at Hoi Tong just a few weeks after the Lunar New Year.

His Cantonese food was a reflection of the high ideals of Hong Kong-style restraint and refinement. Sweet-and-sour pork underpinned with hawthorn berry juice for jewel-bright freshness. Milk stir-fried with egg whites to trembling textural perfection, recalling a time from the chef’s youth when milk was available only once a year from local farmers’ water buffalo, and to waste such a precious product would be disaster. Salt-baked chicken and roasted squab dripping with succulence—the skin rendered crisp and glossy. Bitter melon omelettes bitingly green and fresh, softly set and flecked with preserved meats to give gentle savour.

As much as we have been blessed with Uncle Tong’s cooking, he would say he has been lucky to have an engaged and loyal clientele: diners with considered palates who don’t fall for easy flavours but who understand the truth of ingredients and have appreciation for a chef’s skills in crafting food with honesty and integrity. Customers who want only the best, and love Uncle Tong all the more for delivering it humbly and quietly, as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do.

And so the last meal draws to an end; the dishes are cleared, aprons are hung and the kitchen burners are turned off for the last time. Customers savour their final bites slowly.

Thank you, Uncle Tong. Everything was delicious.

VIDEO: Lifetime Achievement Award 2019

Restaurant Awards 2019 ▸▸▸

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