Tag Archives: Susur Lee

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Why Iron Chef Canada’s Susur Lee Loves a Little Friendly Competition

Iron Chef Susur Lee has long been an icon in the culinary world, helming Lee, Luckee, Lee Kitchen and Kid Lee in Toronto and TungLok in Singapore.  That’s on top of serving as a celebrity judge on Chopped Canada and Masterchef Asia. With 45 years of culinary experience under his belt,  a healthy love of competition, combined with his obvious passion for food, Lee is a perfect choice to step into Kitchen Stadium as an Iron Chef.

We caught up with Iron Chef Susur Lee to chat about falling in love with food as a young boy in Hong Kong, cooking with family and the surprising secret ingredient he wants to see in Kitchen Stadium next season.

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Did you always want to be a chef?

No, actually as a kid I wanted to be a Kung Fu master! I studied with a Kung Fu master for years from the time I was a small boy until a teenager. Cooking and kung fu have similar philosophies about mentality and discipline. Being a chef is kind of like being a kung fu master though, it requires agility and thinking on your feet!

Where does your love of food stem from?

I fell in love with food as a young kid, when I’d walk through the markets of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a food city, and southern Cantonese is one of the most important cuisines in the southern part of China. I was really intrigued by all of the smells. My mum wasn’t a great cook so she’d give me a little bit of money and I’d buy myself little bites of food on my way home from school. From the open windows of our home, we could smell the street vendors down on the street, I think this is where I fell in love with food but also developed a deep interest in learning more about food.

How did you realize that cooking could be your career?

I really started in the kitchen as a way to make some money. Hong Kong has always had more restaurants than any city in the world. I started washing woks because I enjoyed the liveliness of the kitchen. I had the drive to move up and I had a deep desire to learn. The hotel kitchens of Hong Kong were very intense. To learn, you had to be observant. No one was taking you under their wing so-to-speak. That’s why I really value my young cooks who want to learn—it’s important to be a strong leader.

How did coming to Canada influence your culinary career?

Canada is such a multicultural place. I felt at home almost immediately. Back home I was exposed to classic French cooking but as a young cook, I didn’t get to travel much. Before coming to Canada my wife at the time and I took a year to travel. We went to France, Italy,  the Middle East, and India. When we arrived in Toronto, it was so multicultural, I almost didn’t need to travel. I worked in kitchens with Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Thai, Irish. I really got a global education here. It gave me a hunger to travel even more and really immerse myself in other cultures.

What was it like opening your first restaurant?

Exhausting! I really did everything. I was going to the market every day and I had a new baby. My family and I lived above the restaurant so it was really, truly a 24/7 job. But at the end of the day, it gave me joy and I knew I was building a life for my family.

What’s your favourite dish to make? 

Honestly, I love cooking Asian food. It really brings me home. That said, whatever my kids ask me to make I always love, usually because we’ll work together in the kitchen to make it. It means the dish is all that more pleasurable to eat.

Do you have a favourite local ingredient?

I always say garlic is my favorite, but really anything grown in Ontario during its peak season. We grow such great produce here.

You were the second Canadian to enter Kitchen Stadium in 2006, and now you’re breaking ground as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Is it a full circle moment for you?

It kind of is, but I don’t really think of it that way. Every day I feel honoured to be able to do what I love and sometimes I get to do that on national TV! I was grateful to be asked as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Iit validates how hard I’ve worked.

How does Iron Chef Canada showcase uniquely Canadian cuisine?

I think Canada deserves it’s own food shows, we are a unique country with so many talented people cooking in so many different ways. The secret ingredients and the curve balls are what make it Canadian but you really see it in the dishes that are produced as well. They’re not distinctly Canadian but they have flavours from all around the world… which I think is very Canadian in itself.

How did you prepare for the competition?

I basically lived in the kitchen for a few weeks and cooked with my sous chefs. We’ve worked together for over 10 years but we haven’t cooked together in a while. Jonas (Lee) and Bryan (Kid Lee) and I just experimented, tested and got comfortable with each other again. We brought Kitchen Stadium to us!

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What can we expect from the competitors this season?

I am sure they are all accomplished in their own way and they all love to cook. The competition will be tough—I’m really eager to see all of them compete!

 How did it feel to be competing again rather than being behind the judging table?

Well, I did compete in the Chopped judges’ episode, where the judges had a choice to judge their peers or compete and I chose to compete. That really gave me that rush again and I loved it! I love being in the heat of the kitchen so I was thrilled when I was approached to be an Iron Chef. I still work in my restaurant kitchen but it just doesn’t compare to the pressure of a competition like Iron Chef Canada. I’ve worked as a chef for 45 years now and I’m still learning and getting opportunities to put my knowledge to use. It’s such a rush!

You’re known for your fusion food. Do you think your culinary style gave you an advantage over the competition?

Perhaps because I am very versatile. I have always felt that  “fusion” is a name given to me by others that I didn’t really even like at first, but I accept it now. I am a chef first and my style is just me. I am extremely technical and that’s very French, I am extremely creative and that is Chinese.

How do you create an Iron Chef Canada menu once you’ve found out the secret ingredient?

You have to think very quickly. Having cooked for 45 years myself and 15 with my two sous chefs, we have a lot of tricks in our bag. We began by discussing how the ingredients can fit into what we know. You can’t “re-invent” the wheel on live TV.

Did any of the secret ingredients throw you for a loop?

The curve balls were actually what threw me for a loop the most. With the time constraints, the menu already planned out and the unfamiliarity of the kitchen, it’s a challenge, that’s for sure!

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow iron chefs, what would you choose?

I was recently in Thailand and ate quite a few insects—so maybe insects! They say it’s the food of the future so why not introduce it to the world on the big stage!

Susur Lee’s 10 Tips for Making Amazing Camping Meals

World-acclaimed chef and Chopped Canada judge Susur Lee used to camp all the time with his family, especially when his three boys were kids. Grilling up the same old hot dogs and hamburgers on a camping trip can get boring… fast. But not for Lee who won’t settle for less than amazing food.

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Here Susur Lee shares his tips on how to elevate a humble camping meal into something extraordinary.

1. Bring along an olive oil sprayer. 
It’s a widely-known fact that olive oil is a crucial part of mastering an outdoor grill, but who wants to lug around a big bottle when they’re in the middle of the woods? Make things easier by bringing a sprayer with you to spritz the grill with oil whenever you need to. Keeping things quick, clean and simple is an integral part of ensuring your camping trip is successful.

2. Mix things up by grilling some fruit alongside your vegetables.
Sure, grilling veggies like bell peppers and zucchini is yummy and nutritious, but throwing some pineapple or peach slices on the grill adds an unexpected sweet and savory taste to your meals.

3. Buy quality, store-bought food whenever possible.
No one wants to spend a ton of time and effort on meal preparation during a camping trip, so if you can buy pre-packaged and already-made ingredients, make sure to do so. Lee likes to bring packages of peeled garlic cloves in a vacuum-sealed bag because they’re super easy to crush and add to anything. No muss, no fuss.

4. Choose square plates over round ones.
The idea behind this is simple. You don’t have a lot of room on a picnic table and square plates line up nicely along the edge of the table, leaving more space for other items. Efficiency is key when dining outdoors.

5: When life gives you lemons…
You can never have enough lemons on a camping trip. Lee loves to grill them and squeeze them over both desserts and main dishes to brighten them up. The citrus flavour will complement your dishes perfectly.

6. Keep it casual.
When you’re camping, it’s no secret that the simpler something is, the better. You don’t have to spend a lot of time (or any at all) on meal presentation. Keep everything looking rustic and  straightforward. This is not the time for delicate garnishes and fussy plating.

7. Serve food at room temperature.
Bugs can be a huge problem when you’re camping, and a good way to keep the flies away is to make sure your food is served at room temperature. Steaming hot dishes will attract pesky bugs and distract from your meal. Also make sure to pack mosquito covers to keep your food completely bug-free.

8. Bring a cooler.
Susur likes to have a big one on hand to store all his ingredients cool and safe from the heat.

9. Be sure to have plenty of fuel on hand if that’s your main source of cooking.
The last thing you want is to run out of gas in the middle of your gourmet camping meal!

10. Pick a good cooking spot.
You don’t want to be battling the winds on your camping adventure. Set up your cooking station in a place that’s shielded from the elements to maximize your enjoyment of cooking in the great outdoors.

Try these two tasty camping meals by Susur Lee:

Vegetable Polenta Cakes
Singapore Style Beef Shish Kabob

Heartwarming Mother’s Day Memories from our Stars

Our star chefs weren’t born ready to share delicious food with the world — they were raised that way, largely thanks to their loving mothers. Here, they share their favourite Mother’s Day memories.

Find out whose mom raised eight children, whose mom decorated cakes with ballerinas, and whose mom’s cooking was a cautionary example.

Noah Cappe's mom enjoying a birthday cake; Noah as a kid. Instagram, @noahcappe.

Noah Cappe’s mom enjoying a birthday cake; Noah as a kid. Instagram, @noahcappe.
Instagram, @noahcappe

“My mom raised EIGHT kids,” says Carnival Eats host Noah Cappe. “She dedicated a huge part of her life to making all of ours better, so Mother’s Day is super special for lots of reasons.” Now that Noah and his siblings are grown up, the dinner table is crowded — these days, it sits close to twenty people including all the spouses and grandchildren, says Noah. “But the moments during those nights, when there are five different conversations at once, and dishes are being passed around in fluid rotation from years of practice, and we couldn’t hear the doorbell if it rang, from the noise in the room — that’s when she’s the happiest, and those are my favourite memories of Mother’s Day.”

Josh Elkin, then and now. Childhood picture courtesy Instagram, @thejoshelkin.

Josh Elkin, then and now. Childhood picture courtesy Instagram, @thejoshelkin.
Instagram, @thejoshelkin

Cooks vs. Cons judge and Sugar Showdown host Josh Elkin never forgets to give his mom flowers and a sweet card for Mother’s Day, although he always forgets what he wrote on the card. “I give my mom the card, thinking that I wrote the most unique message, and she responds saying, ‘I love it Josh, you’re so sweet,’” he explains. “Little do I realize, year after year, I write the same thing on the card.” This year Josh plans to step it up with — what else? — a sugary treat. “I’ll be baking my mom some sweets, maybe even write some niceties on a cake using some icing. That way, it’ll for sure be unique.”

Susur Lee with his mom. Instagram, @susurlee.

Susur Lee with his mom. Instagram, @susurlee.
Instagram, @susurlee

Susur Lee credits his parents for working hard to provide for his family. “I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without my mother and father,” says the Chopped Canada judge. “I know it sounds predictable, but because she was always working, she didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I was either eating her terrible food or going out for dim sum with my dad.” But all that time suffering through bad meals or eating delicious restaurant dinners inadvertently shaped the budding chef. “Together, without really knowing it, they shaped the way I would eat and interact with food for the rest of my life.”

Anna Olson then and now. Childhood photo courtesy Instagram, @chefannaolson.

Anna Olson then and now. Childhood photo courtesy Instagram, @chefannaolson.
Instagram, @chefannaolson

“My mom and I have a special bond around Mother’s Day,” says Bake with Anna Olson star Anna Olson. It’s not just that she loves her mom, but Anna’s birthday is around the same time as Mother’s Day, too. “We’ve always made a super girly thing of it,” she says. Anna and her mom exchange gifts like scarves and perfumes, and doll up each other’s desserts. “When I think of Mother’s Day, I think of birthday cake. As a kid, my Mom used to always top my cake or cupcakes with these plastic ballerinas that I thought were the most glamorous thing ever. Thanks, Mom!”

Need a cupcake to decorate, with ballerinas or anything else? Try Anna Olson’s Lemon Coconut Cupcakes.

Michael Smith, his wife Chazz, his kids Gabe, Camille and Ariella and a prime PEI lobster. Photos courtesy Instagram, @chefmichaelsmith, @thechazzsmith.

Michael Smith, his wife Chazz, his kids Gabe, Camille and Ariella and a prime PEI lobster. Photos courtesy Instagram, @chefmichaelsmith, @thechazzsmith.

Chopped Canada judge Michael Smith is a proud Prince Edward Islander, so it should come as no surprise that his Mother’s Day memories feature the island province’s famous lobsters. “On Prince Edward Island, Mother’s Day is traditionally celebrated with a giant feed of lobsters,” he says. “Our fishing season starts at the beginning of May, so lots of moms get their first taste of our famous lobsters on their special day. Even though they should have the day off, I suspect many moms willingly stay in the kitchen just to keep an eye on things!”

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How Susur Lee Pimps His Noodle Soup

Want to take your noodle soup to the next level? We spoke to Chopped Canada judge and world-renowned chef Susur Lee for his tips on turning simple soups gourmet. Whether you’re upgrading a homemade recipe or adding flair to a packaged version, soup it up with Susur Lee!

Ramen

Food Network Canada/Food Factory

Ramen

Pimp it with: Chinese BBQ duck breast and plum sauce.

“The idea of ramen noodles, it’s really about convenience, right?” says Susur. He suggests an easy upgrade by combining ramen with another delicious convenience food: BBQ Chinese duck breast. “I like making Japanese-style ramen, and getting Chinese BBQ duck breast in Chinatown, and just putting it in,” says Susur. “I think it’s perfect. And with a little bit of plum sauce on top, it’s the best, the most convenient, and you can really pimp it up! I would eat that any day.”

Hong Kong Macaroni Soup

Karon Liu

Hong Kong Macaroni Soup

Pimp it with: sake, marinated pork tenderloin, Vietnamese cilantro and lemon balm.

“If you’re making macaroni soup, your pasta has to be quite overcooked; it cannot be too al dente,” advises Susur. “If I eat that soup, it’s very soft.” Broth is also important, so make or select a good quality base and add a touch of sake for depth. Then, instead of the usual cold cut ham, Susur recommends marinating thinly sliced pork tenderloin with soy sauce, egg white, green onion, ginger and “quite a bit of black pepper.” Lightly poach the marinated pork in the hot broth just before serving, and top the soup with chopped lemon balm and Vietnamese style cilantro — “Not the Chinese, not the Spanish, the Vietnamese long one,” explains Susur. Since this dish will be eaten with a spoon, be sure to cut all your ingredients to bite size.

Alton Brown's Chicken Noodle Soup

Food Network Canada/Good Eats

Chicken Noodle Soup

Pimp it with: semolina dumplings, poached chicken slices and marjoram.

Turn your chicken noodle soup into a delicious meal experience with thin slices of poached chicken breast (follow the same method as the pork tenderloin above) and semolina dumplings. “It’s basically semolina, an egg, butter and Parmesan cheese,” says Susur. “You whip it together and turn it into a dumpling, and you just float it, almost like a matzo ball. It expands in the chicken noodle soup, and it tastes so good. And also chopped marjoram — that would make the soup taste really good… And that’s my pimped up noodles!”

PhoPho

Pimp it with: Don’t even…

“I think I wouldn’t ruin the pho,” says Susur. “I think pho is so perfect.”

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Where to Enjoy Dishes Made by Chopped Canada Judges

Ever wonder what makes Chopped Canada judges such experts on cuisine? Answer: They are all nationally renowned chefs who have spent time running incredibly successful restaurants. When it comes to delicious eats and a well-run kitchen, these spots certainly take the cake. See for yourself and sample the creations of your favourite Chopped Canada judges at these restaurants across the country.

Chopped Canada restaurants
Photo: Park Restaurant

Anne Yarymowich and John Higgins, The Chefs’ House at George Brown Chef School (Toronto, ON)

After working for years, heading up the food and beverage department at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Chef Yarymowich has moved on to the world of education. When she’s not judging and chopping contestants on Chopped Canada, Yarymowich can be found mentoring new generations of young chefs at George Brown alongside fellow judge, John Higgins. The Chefs’ House is the culinary program’s restaurant where the soon-to-be graduates practice their skills in a real-time service setting. With any sort of student-run service, you might expect a few hiccups along the way while dining, but rest assured you’re in good hands with these two Chopped Canada judges involved in the process.

Antonio Park,  Park (Montreal, QC)

With Lavanderia (Park’s newest Latin American concept) nominated as one of ‘Canada’s Best New Restaurant 2015’ in enRoute Magazine and one of the newer judges to the Chopped Canada panel, Antonio Park has had one heck of a year! Another one to mention is Park’s popular spot Jatoba, which offers a mix of Asian and South American cuisine. His first restaurant, Park, remains one of Montreal’s top spots, a Japanese eatery known for its stunning presentation and signature sushi platters. This place is frequented by many celebrities. On any given night you may be dining beside NHL players, or even cross paths with actor Neil Patrick Harris.

Lynn Crawford, Ruby Watchco (Toronto, ON)

One of Canada’s most well-known chefs aims to impress with her popular Toronto restaurant, Ruby Watchco. Chef Lynn and Chef Lora Kirk source local, seasonal ingredients to create a menu that changes daily. Think foraged mushrooms with polenta, butternut squash with bacon sauerkraut and rack of pork with Warner’s Farms spicy plum sauce. The restaurant also offers a four course family-style meal in their private dining room for special events. A slightly cozier setting than the main floor, which also features a chilled out ambiance for an incredible meal you won’t soon forget.

Massimo Capra, Mistura (Toronto, ON)

Lively and Italian through-and-through, it should come as no surprise that Capra’s restaurant  match his personality. His main eatery, Mistura, focuses on well-crafted Italian fare from freshly made pastas to antipasto, such as cured duck prosciutto and mortadella, to crostini topped with mushroom, arugula and gorgonzola. If you ever find yourself at Toronto Pearson airport, you can also head to Boccone Trattoria to have a little taste of Capra’s cooking.

Mark McEwan, Bymark (Toronto, ON)

No doubt one of the country’s most successful chefs, McEwan has built a culinary empire for himself while starring in two major television series, The Heat and Top Chef Canada, with multiple successful restaurant properties and his namesake boutique grocery store chain. Bymark restaurant was one of the first places in Canada to define the “gourmet burger” — 8 ounces of beefy goodness topped with shaved truffle, porcinis and brie — and has been a staple of the higher end dining since it opened its doors. Outside of Toronto’s financial district, you can also dine at one of Chef McEwan’s restaurants, including ONE Restaurant, North 44° and Fabbrica.

Michael Smith,  Fireworks (Bay Fortune, PEI)

Michael Smith’s restaurant has undergone a major renovation within the last year, making dinner here more of an immersed, interactive dining experience than ever. The focal point of the room is the giant 25-foot fireplace-meets cooktop, where the kitchen team prepares their nightly meals as you watch all the action front and centre. Smith is a huge advocate of local food, so expect everything to be seasonal at the Inn at Bay Fortune restaurant, Fireworks. Make sure not to miss oyster hour every night at 6pm, where the culinary team shuck through a pile of their world famous Colville Bay and Fortune Bay oysters.

Roger Mooking, Twist (Toronto, ON)

This bubbly chef has been a longtime staple of Toronto’s food scene with past restaurant endeavours, but has been getting a lot of buzz recently with his eatery, Twist, that you can find inside of Toronto Pearson Airport. His cool concept breaks the mould of the standard, subpar airport restaurant, offering diners a nice selection of craft beer and wine and a long list of comfort food like homemade burgers and pastas with interesting twists (hence the name!). Next time you have a bit of extra time before boarding your flight, pop into Twist to see what a nice, contemporary airport meal can feel like.

Susur Lee, Lee (Toronto, ON)

If you enjoy the breadth and depth found in the many facets of Asian cuisine, book a table at Lee to experience those robust flavours with a master chef’s finesse. Pulling from many overseas regions like Thailand and Japan, Susur Lee crafts a menu full of intriguing and well-crafted dishes like lobster ravioli with yuzu squash purée and housemade XO sauce or crispy tofu with pepper and mushroom compote and a soy chili glaze. The cocktail list is as equally well thought out, so start off dinner with a saketini (or two). Following in fellow judges Capra and Mooking’s footsteps, Lee also embraced the trend of elevated airport dining by opening up Lee Kitchen in Toronto Pearson airport earlier this year. Lee also owns glitzy dim sum restaurant Luckee, and Asian-fusion Bent with his two sons, Kai and Levi Bent-Lee.