Grace Choy was just twelve years old when she first discovered her love for cooking. Growing up, Choy would spend many a day in her childhood kitchen, peering over the countertop to observe her mother in action. On some occasions, she would step in to cook for herself, recreating basic dishes from memory. Choy’s passion for cooking never really went away — after a lengthy career in public relations, and with support from her husband, she decided to start afresh and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a chef.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Choy is the founder and head chef at CHOY CHOY KITCHEN, a private dining-style restaurant located in the small town of Yuen Long, Hong Kong. Within the last decade, the career-woman-turned-celebrity-chef has become a household name in Hong Kong; having been recognized as the owner of one of CNN’s top ten best hidden private kitchens, Choy has racked up a series of impressive accolades such as holding the record for the most liked chinese restaurant on Facebook and becoming the first Twitter-verified chef from greater China.
On March 22, the second installment of CHOY CHOY KITCHEN made its grand debut in Nishiazabu. Hidden in the backstreets of the Nishiazabu main intersection and Gonpachi complex, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a shy cry from the grandeur of an establishment you would come to expect from a chef as revered as Choy. Yet, the intimacy of CHOY CHOY KITCHEN is part of the allure; Choy got her start in hosting private dinners for a handful of customers, offering a tasting menu in a chef’s table-style setting. CHOY CHOY KITCHEN in Nishiazabu emanates a similar experience, with a sophisticated yet snug interior.
Open solely during evenings, Choy offers an exclusive omakase (Japanese phrase meaning “I’ll leave it to you”) course menu ranging from ¥15,000. From the counter seats, guests are given a glimpse into the kitchen to observe Choy’s hands at work, preparing her show-stopping meals inspired by her Shanghainese mother and Hong Kongese mother-in-law.
Signature dishes from the course include the slow-cooked stewed beef brisket and succulent radish, immersed in a delicate clear soup which tastes like the liquid form of a comforting maternal hug on a sick day; traditional steamed red snapper loaded with a heap of scallions, chiles and a side of seared lean pork; and a whole chicken (sans-head) poached in soy sauce. In between dishes, the gentle waft of a distinctive, faint popcorn-esque aroma signals the arrival of bowls of steaming jasmine rice. Finally, the night ends on a sweeter note, with a creamy scoop of cashew nuts sweet soup — a staple in Hong Kongese desserts.
Despite the exquisite meals, one factor stood out. Unlike general Chinese cuisine, there was a stark absence of excess oils and intense flavoring in Choy’s cooking. The usual culprits of cooking — salt, fat, acid and heat — were indeed present in her dishes and yet, were considerably subdued. Choy attributes this to her philosophy of cooking, in which food should be consumed in its complete authenticity. Prior to opening her restaurant, the chef toured various eateries in Tokyo to research the local Chinese food scene. What she found was a disappointing trend in fusion cuisine, those that combine heavy oils and exaggerated seasoning, effectively masking the true nuances of each dish.
Nevertheless, Choy decided to focus on providing healthy and authentic meals which feature no preservatives and taste enhancers like MSG, with the goal of having people taste the real organic flavors of homely, Cantonese-style cooking. Through CHOY CHOY KITCHEN, chef Choy has reached her ultimate goal of bringing healthy and authentic cooking to the forefront of Cantonese cuisine, becoming a pioneer in her field where wellness meets ethnic cuisine.
CHOY CHOY KITCHEN
1-11-13 Nishiazabu Minato-ku
Open 5pm-11pm (closed during weekends and national holidays)
Capacity: 22 seats (Chef’s counter 10 seats, table 12 seats)