Where is one of Canada's best chefs spending his Chinese New Year? Susur Lee is in Hong Kong, the cultural centre of New Year's celebrations, on pleasure and business – he is sourcing equipment for Luckee, his new restaurant slated to open at Toronto's SoHo Metropolitan Hotel in March. The Globe and Mail spoke to the chef earlier this week about his festive plans, traditions and his outlook on the year of the horse.
ON NEW YEAR'S EVE
I am thinking of going to Yuen Long on the outskirts of Hong Kong in the New Territories. There's this old farming village and how they celebrate is by making poon choi. It is almost like a European bouillabaisse with layers of food and they put it on a big table and everybody shares. They stand up eating together and it's almost like hot pot. The land and the ocean and the field, everything is in there.
ON NEW YEAR'S DAY
The family will get together for dinner and talk about the past and the future and all those things. I'm excited to do that because those are the days – the greatest days – to have positivity. I would like to spend a little more time with my mother, she had her leg amputated a few years back and my father passed away about six months ago. So you go through both the positive and also negative.
This year, the year of the horse, there are quite a few negative things. It's a challenging year in terms of jobs, of living standard and love life, and you should pay attention to your friendships. If the Chinese have figured it out to be aware of those matters, then you want to turn them into positives. So make sure you don't fight with your friends, make sure you don't change jobs. You just have to pay attention to turn it into good.
It's my dream to open a really great Chinese restaurant with dim sum and great dishes, not only Cantonese but dishes from Hunan and from Szechuan. These are dishes I learned when I was living in Asia and travelling. It's going to be cool, modern Chinese dining, but the food will be very traditional at the same time. And you'll have an open kitchen where you can see the chef making dim sum and the wok chef frying and sautéing things in the back. It will create a good vibe for that loud Chinese feel.
ON CHINESE PRIDE
I would normally host all my friends and family in Toronto and go to a Chinese restaurant, at a round table, and we sit together symbolically. We make sure the children remember that this is a celebration important to their roots. They are very aware of it, they say gung hay fat choy, they understand all that. Sometimes my wife does say, "That is so Chinese!" which I'm very proud of. I am very Chinese in many, many ways, even though I've lived in North America more than I lived in Hong Kong. But I am still very Chinese because I value myself. Lucky to be Chinese always.
ON TRAVELLING WITH AN ITALIAN
I am travelling with this really dear friend of mine. He's Italian and he loves food. He did make a point at one place: "Oh wow, this mall is just like in Scarborough!" So we still have some really great culture in Canada with the Chinese heritage. We are very, very lucky.
This interview has been edited and condensed.