Behind The Taste: Chef Sam Pang

by Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last November, we had the opportunity to taste the cuisine of Sam Pang, Executive Chef of Breeze, Tower Club at Lebua at the James Beard House. The dinner was intimate and the food was outstanding. We were able to catch up with Pang to find out his food philosophy, why he prefers not to entertain at home, and his most memorable dinner.

What’s your food philosophy? Can you describe the food you make?

My food philosophy is well-balanced traditional Chinese and Asian cuisine with a modern twist. I believe that food is one of life’s greatest joys.

What’s a favorite/signature dish of yours, or one that you’re especially proud of? What do you love about it?

My favorite dishes are Braised Niman Ranch Beef Short Rib’s Yaan prepared with Flowering Wild Pepper, Organic Farm Vegetable and Brown & Black Jasmine Rice as well as Charcoal Grilled Chilean Sea bass prepared with Chinese chive. I love the ingredients and flavors of both dishes.

Can you share any food memories from your childhood?

One of my greatest food memories from my childhood is of my mother and grandmother cooking traditional Peranakan cuisine at home. Those were my favorite meals.

What drew you to this cuisine? What do you love about that kind of cooking?

I’ve been preparing it professionally since the 1990’s when I began as an assistant at a restaurant in Hong Kong that was known for traditional Chinese cuisine. Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside master chefs in many luxury 5 stars hotels in Hong Kong. During my time in Hong Kong, I was able to  master my technique and knowlegde of classic Cantonese cuisine. I love cooking traditional Chinese cuisine because it reflects the area’s rich culture and because of the abundance of fresh herbs and spices available in the region.

Tell us about the inspiration behind this menu you created. Why these dishes?

My inspiration comes from the rich culture and history of the region.

Tell us about your background and where you grew up.

I grew up in Penang, Malaysia with my parents. My father worked in the hospitality industry as a restaurant manager. I remember I had moved schools very often because of his career.  My father was the first person who introduced me to the world of hospitality and the food and beverage industry. He was my greatest influence and because of him, I dreamt of becoming a chef when I grew up.

In 1995, I had the opportunity to work under Peter Knipps’ culinary member at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The two years I worked with him changed my life and it was during that time that my cooking techniques improved significantly. Later, I spent 6 years with Star Cruises Asia Pacific, which allowed me to explore and gain knowledge of different countries, various types of cuisine and cultures.

Tell us about a typical night at your restaurant?

Breeze is always packed so you can imagine how busy it can be in the kitchen during operation time. In addition to cooking, my typical work night meeting and greeting our customers.

What are some of the most memorable dinners you’ve had?

My most memorable dinner is when I took my beloved wife out for dinner at Mezzaluna restaurant, also located within The Dome at lebua. My wife insisted on dining at Breeze however I decided to take her to Mezzaluna instead and it was an incredible experience from start to finish. My wife and I will cherish that memorable night at Mezzaluna for years to come.

Who are some of the up and comers (Chefs) you’re excited about right now?

The chefs I’m excited about are Tetsuya Wakuda (Star Chef,) Alvin Leung (Demon Chef,) and Dong Zhen Xiang (Da Dong Group.)

What are the most popular dishes you serve? Your personal favorites?

Our Breeze Signature Fried Dim Sum Platter is our most popular dish as well as my personal favorite. It represents the 4 distinct flavors; sour, bitter, sweet and spicy.

The four offerings are as follows: Sour – Chaozhou Sour Vegetable Wagyu Beef Puff , Sweet – Foie Gras Duck Lemon Butter Bee Puff , Bitter – Bittergourd & Kurobuta Glutinous Puff with Blueberries Sauce and Spicy – Lamb Scallion Pancake in egg white chili sauce.

 What do you love about living and working in your city?

I love working in Bangkok because of the city’s rich historical and cultural background.

What ingredients do you look forward to all year?

Mangosteen (a tropical fruit with sweet juicy white segments of flesh inside a thick reddish-brown rind)

Do you cook at home? What’s a typical family dinner?

I do cook at home. Double-boiled soup is the most typical menu for my family dinner. The recipe came from my family who are from Southern part of China. This dish is ingrained within my heritage.

Do you entertain at home?

I do not entertain at home, I consider my time at home the time to spend with my family.

What’s your definition of a successful dinner party?

Our Breeze restaurant dinner at James Beard Foundation Event in New York City in 2014 is my definition of a successful dinner party. It was a success because we received a tremendously warm reception and were completely booked one month in advance. I enjoyed having the opportunity to personally introduce our dishes to guests, which they seemed to appreciate.

What are some of your go-to dinner party dishes?

Seafood is my first choice. I think it is fun and the it provides the most versatility.

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

Food is an important part of my life. Even I weren’t a chef, I would still be in this industry – operating my own restaurant.

How do you make everyday meals feel special?

I pour my heart and passion into every dish I cook and I’m proud of what I do.

What’s a go-to everyday meal for you?

Anything that is simple and delicious. For example, I had Kao Pad Kung (Thai Fried Rice with Prawns) for lunch recently.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

When not working, I like to enjoy my time with family and friends.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

The process of creating a new dish. I enjoy getting together with my team members and sharing ideas and inspirations with each other.

What’s a dish you could eat over and over again and never get sick of?

Any healthy dishes.

What’s on your music playlist that get’s you in a cooking groove and why?

I have R&B and hip hop music on my playlist.  However, I do not really listen to music before work.

If you could cook dinner for anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you serve?

I would cook for my late father. He passed away when I was still a junior cook. The dish would be Peking Duck served with Beluga Caviar, Iranian Pancake & Kumquat (Turkish) which is one of the best dishes in Chinese cuisine.

[Photo courtesy of KWEPR]

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