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Happy People make Happy Food

Chef Sam Wong, the new Chef-de-Cuisine at Eest, The Westin, Gurgaon is a man whose smile is enough to say, the food is going to be great! Happiness is an integral ingredient after all!

Eest, the Pan Asian restaurant at Westin started out on a great foot. Their sushi buffet was the talk of the town at one point and I was one of the mavens for this gorgeous restaurant. Then came a slump. I can’t say if it was the influx of Asian fine dining options in the city or if the novelty had worn off. The slump was more by word of mouth and now it’s time for a revival. With a bevy of new Chefs and each one from the country of the cuisine they represent, it’s time to take note of Eest all over again. The restaurant itself is done in true Asian style – delicate screens and private dining rooms ensure privacy with all the pleasant din of a bustling eatery. The Asian decor accents are stark and add to the opulence of the meal. I had the opportunity to meet Chef Sam Wong, the new Chinese Chef-de-Cuisine for Eest and I was thrilled by his enthusiasm and positivity.

Parul Shirazi (PS): Let’s start with your culinary footsteps in a city like Delhi.
Sam Wong (SW): Basically I have been in and out of India for 13 years, between Bombay and Delhi, so Delhi is like a second home. Before I joined the Westin team, I was with Crowne Plaza Today in Okhla. I was a part of the pre-opening team but actually before that I was on the opening team at Westin, Sohna. But what really made me strong was that I started my career in India with The Oberoi Hotels. 13 years ago, Taipan at the Oberoi was one of the best Asian restaurants, and that was my foundation here. I learned from the locals, on how to improve myself.

PS: That’s nice of you to say but how did India happen for you?
SW: Initially when I came to India nothing was happening but you see it now, India is growing. India in so many ways is better than Singapore, that’s why I came here. If you see now, the city is so cosmopolitan, people want to try different things. People travel now, they know Chinese, Italian food, they know it better than you! Today a businessman is here, tomorrow he is in Shanghai; we can’t fool him, we have to concentrate on all aspects of the cuisine. Even foreigners like Chinese food!

PS: That’s a good point and an essential one for a Chef to appreciate! But where are do you hail from?
SW: I’m born Chinese but lived in Singapore.

PS: So do you see seasoned travelers as guests, as a challenge?
SW: It gives me the opportunity to work on my cuisine better! See, they know better than me so I have to be better than their expectations!

PS: But, do you think it’s unfair when locals want a cuisine tweaked to suit their palate?
SW: No, for me it’s fine. I know a dish has to be a certain way but if a guest wishes for it to be say, less spicy, I will do that. The flavours remain the same, the authenticity is maintained. I know if I see a Japanese guest, I will automatically make it less spicy.

PS: What about your guest experience in Delhi/NCR?
SW: I feel The Westin, Gurgaon is the best ever. We have a very diverse clientele over here, an opportunity to serve many different kinds of people. If I compare it with my previous experiences, this is very cosmopolitan. We have guests like elite airlines, we had the conference for the University of Singapore, they stayed with us for one week. That makes us more vibrant in a way. We have people coming from all walks of life. You see the Japanese, they like it a bit more quiet, so we have provisions like private dinging areas dotted around in Eest itself. The restaurant offers you privacy of all kinds. Family, friends, business!

PS: Have you made changes to the menu as yet?
SW: Ever since I joined, I’ve been implementing new dishes. We have started the Chef’s Special Menu with Chinese, Thai and Japanese. I would like to serve you some of these dishes, since you are here.

PS: That’s great Chef, thank you! But what do you like to eat?
SW: Me? I like Malai Tikka (laughs). It’s because I had never tried anything like it. The marination is super, they use cheese and there are more procedures to the marination. Rest for few hours, then another process of marination. They use cashew paste for binding. The process itself is fascinating, so many levels.

PS: So Chef, have you been around Gurgaon?
SW: Yes, I have to! Like a market survey, I need to know what people are eating in other places, what they like to order. During my off days, I always eat dinner somewhere new. You tell me new places to eat in Gurgaon!
PS: Sure Chef, I owe you a list!

PS: What changes have you planned for Eest?
SW: I am working very closely with my Japanese and Thai Chefs so you can expect something new every quarter. The Chef’s Special Menu, Unlimited Sushi and Sashimi on Thursday nights – we have tried new dishes as well. Guest experience is important to us so we have also planned a tasting menu, a combined experience of three Asian cuisines all under one roof. It is done in courses so guests can try our menu in one meal.

PS: Welcome to Gurgaon Chef, thank you for your time. Let’s eat!

We went on to enjoy a fabulous dinner of Chinese and Japanese dishes. The sushi is excellent at Eest; it is something I always have. Apart from freshness, I love the vegetarian combinations within the rolls and this is one place I can enjoy salmon and tuna sashimi blindly. I highly recommend the Yue Shi Chao Shao (Juicy Pork Char Siu), it is perfectly cooked and the char siu flavours are all natural. You can tell when a sauce is bottled and I usually never go back to places where it is. After the Ma La Tang (Hot Spicy Soup) and the Bai Hua Tou Fu (Steamed Tofu stuffed with Prawns), we knew we were eating a real, hand cooked and wholesome meal. Chinese food is not greasy, it is not steeped in cornflour and it is certainly not pungent. Chinese food is fresh and pure, where every flavour, from tofu to pork, is very obvious and potent. I loved the Singapore style, Ka Li Za Cai (Sayur Lodeh, Stir Fried in Nonya Style). Perakanan cuisine is very dear to me, I have had ingredients flown in just to try it in my kitchen, but I shall hereon let Chef Sam handle it instead! Despite being stuffed we did tuck into the Chuan Shi Hua Ho (Cantonese Flat Rice Noodles with Chicken/ Beef/ Seafood) as well, which could be an entire meal, with a cold beer. Now that’s a plan!

By Parul Pratap Shirazi

Parul is a trained Chef, professional food stylist, cook, food blogger and social media strategist. She loves grapes in her salad.