Behind the Line

Chef Lok Rocks the Wok at Hakkasan

In traditional Chinese kitchens, there are different sections, each equipped to handle a

certain element of the menu. Sections for barbecue, wok, dim sum -- each works on an individual component that all come together before servers whisk away the finished product to diners. The most unusual aspect of service is that the chefs at Hakkasan never see a ticket -- the entire process is facilitated with precision after announcement of the order.

When a dish is ready, it is delivered behind the chef's back. "The wok chefs are very well trained," executive chef Ooi Soon Lok notes. "They know when to turn around; they don't need to look at the check. In a Chinese kitchen, there is no 'What is this? What is that?' We all know what to do and when." The head chef stands at first wok, sort of like the first-chair violin in an orchestra. He reviews the presentation prior to table delivery so that each plate is exactly the same. It's not an easy task, considering that in season, Hakkasan does approximately 500 covers during weekend dinner service.

This is the most expensive kitchen at the Fontainebleau resort. It cost a cool million dollars to outfit the place. We got a backstage pass to view the process firsthand. From steaming buns to flaming woks to guillotined ducks, check out the action at Hakkasan.

They prepare the mise en place (that's fancy French lingo for the individual ingredients that must be chopped and organized in advance of service -- "everything in place"). When the dish is presented to the wok chef, he is able to recognize said ingredients and knows immediately what to do with them. The entire communication is done visually as opposed to verbally. Sort of a kitchen savant methodology.

Before the duck is roasted, it must hang for two days so the skin dries out. Apparently the birds turn a very unattractive color during the roasting process if there is too much moisture in the skin. As it dries, it turns crisp, and then it caramelizes during roasting.

All of the dumplings at Hakkasan are made by hand, all night long.

In an Eastern kitchen, the wok station is run in succession. Chef Lok uses only the number one wok, the senior sous chef uses only the second wok, and it goes down in hierarchy from there.

A traditional wok is controlled by the knees, freeing the chef's hands to manipulate the food during cooking. The right pedal is for gas, left pedal is for water, and the chefs move the controls to adjust the heat and pressure so that nothing burns in the extreme heat. There is a saying that they "dance on the line," because when the kitchen is superbusy, the chefs are in constant motion.

The final plating is done uniformly and presented nearly flawlessly, with the goal that every dish that exits the kitchen looks the same every time.

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Lesley Elliott
Contact: Lesley Elliott