Located at the third level of The Ritz-Carlton Singapore is one-MICHELIN-starred Summer Pavilion. Helmed by its chef de cuisine, Cheung Siu Kong, the restaurant is praised by the MICHELIN inspectors for its extensive Cantonese menu that covers all bases. Here, seafood is a particular highlight with specialties such as double-boiled sea whelk soup with fish maw, poached rice with lobster, and braised abalone.
This year, Cheung celebrates 16 years at Summer Pavilion with his role requiring him to oversee all culinary operations and menus of the restaurant. In this exclusive interview with the MICHELIN Guide, Cheung provides a look into his day-to-day schedule, showcasing what he does in the kitchen and outside of it.
9:00 a.m. - Rise and Shine
“I usually have breakfast prepared by my wife at home before making my way to work,” says Cheung. “During the journey to the hotel, I will look through my schedule for the day and think about how I can effectively complete the work alongside my team.”
Cheung shares that teamwork is fundamental to the success of Summer Pavilion and that this teamwork not only extends to within the culinary team, but also in working seamlessly with the service team to deliver an exceptional dining experience. “I strongly believe that the restaurant’s success is largely due to our teamwork,” he adds. “The MICHELIN accolade spurs us on to continuously improve ourselves so that our guests look forward to new experiences whenever they dine at Summer Pavilion.”
10:00-11:00 a.m. - Arrive at Work, Meet with Culinary Division Leaders, and Review Lunch Covers and Guest List
“I usually arrive at work around 10 a.m., which is followed by the daily culinary leaders’ briefing. I head up to Summer Pavilion after and go through the reservation covers for lunch, special dietary requirements, and the VIPs who may be dining in,” shares Cheung.
According to Cheung, he personally finds that guests lean more towards traditional flavours when it comes to Cantonese cuisine. He adds, “I would say that Cantonese cuisine is more straightforward as its cooking techniques are used to draw out the natural flavours of the dish’s ingredients.”
When asked about the exacting standards of Cantonese cuisine, Cheung shares: “I believe that good Cantonese cuisine is defined by the following: first, exquisite dim sum, which requires refined skills, especially in making the skin of the dumplings. Second, the ability to achieve the right amount of char on barbecued meats without burning them. Third, being able to incorporate the wok’s breath (wok hei) into dishes. And lastly, the ability to create soups that are packed with flavour.”
11:30-2:30 p.m. - Lunch Service
Given that many are celebrating the upcoming Lunar New Year, lunch is busier than usual these days at Summer Pavilion. “I seek inspiration from the flavours of my childhood,” says Cheung. “I hope to recreate comforting dishes that I used to enjoy as a child, but in an elevated manner.”
There is currently a special Lunar New Year menu being served at Summer Pavilion to usher in the Year of the Tiger, and Cheung shares that his favourites are the Yu Sheng, Pen Cai, and fish dishes as they are symbolically auspicious to enjoy during the Lunar New Year.
3:00-4:30 p.m. - Team Debrief and Coffee Break
After lunch service, Cheung shares that a team debrief takes place wherein the culinary and service teams collate guest feedback and discuss any areas of improvement before their coffee break at 3:30 p.m.
“A positive mindset helps me get through any day, and I also motivate my team to continuously strive to do our best,” shares Cheung. “I look forward to my mid-afternoon coffee breaks as the caffeine helps refuel me and sees me through the rest of the day.”
4:30-6:30 p.m. - Dinner Preparations, Review Dinner Covers and Guest List
“At approximately 4:30 p.m., the team will start making preparations for dinner service after reviewing the reservation covers, dietary requirements of guests, and the VIPs coming for dinner,” says Cheung.
“We also have training sessions three times a week where the culinary team will cook different dishes, and we will taste and share feedback," he says.
“I believe that learning from peers is beneficial, and it helps everyone to continuously learn and grow.”
6:30-10:30 p.m. - Dinner Service
Cheung’s process of conceiving a dish involves thinking about its taste, smell, and visual appearance. “I like to ensure that each dish appeals to the senses. With this in mind, I will think about the overall presentation of the dish — what colours and garnishes to use, as well as what kind of aroma and flavours I hope to bring out. I find that it is important to present a well-balanced dish where the visual appearance should complement the flavours,” he says.
Despite the lavish meals being served in the restaurant, a typical personal meal for Cheung focuses on balance and includes four main dishes: a fish, a meat, a vegetable, and a soup. “Recently, I have reduced my intake of carbohydrates,” he adds.
10:30 p.m. - Team Debrief
The final activity of the evening is another get-together wherein the team discusses what went well during dinner service, as well as what can be improved on. “We usually use this time to note things for the next day’s lunch meal period,” Cheung adds.
12:00 a.m. - Home Sweet Home
“At the end of the day, I look forward to making my way home and enjoying supper lovingly cooked by my wife. I usually do not have time to eat dinner due to the busy restaurant operations,” shares Cheung. “I really enjoy dishes cooked by my wife, especially her soups. She is Cantonese as well, and her cooking reminds me of home,” he says fondly.
As a father of three, Cheung shares that during his days off, he wants nothing more than to spend quality time with his family. “I enjoy listening to music and sitting down to dinner with my family, which is usually prepared by my wife or sons. As Summer Pavilion is very busy during the Lunar New Year period, I am seldom able to celebrate the first two days with my family. Hence, our reunion dinner usually takes place after midnight, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, and it is prepared by my wife.”
Despite the demands of his chosen occupation, Cheung remains grateful to have the rare opportunity to marry passion and work. With over 30 years of culinary experience, Cheung realised his passion for the culinary arts at the tender age of seven through helping his grandmother in the kitchen, and he has maintained his joy for cooking up to this day.
“Not everyone gets an opportunity like this, and I am indeed very grateful to the people in my life, especially my family who understands. In the face of challenges, my family is my greatest motivation and support,” Cheung says. “It’s not an easy job, but it is a fulfilling one. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”