Born and brought up in Kolkata, Steven Lee went to the United Kingdom nearly 15 years ago and started the concept of Indo-Chinese cuisine in the UK. Hailing from Tangra, he is a pioneer in popularising the unique taste and flavours of this special cuisine which was previously unknown in London.
About a year back, he started his own venture, Hakkaland, which specialises in Kolkata Chinese. With his roots in Calcutta (where Indo – Chinese cuisine was born) not only has he inherited this cuisine but has also learned the trade by working at the much reputed China Garden Restaurant in Mumbai where he mastered this particular art. He has brought this amazing fusion cuisine to the limelight with restaurants like Dalchini, Spice n Ice, Bombay Wok and now Hakkaland.
Adapting Chinese cooking techniques to Indian flavours and tastes, he draws on the vibrant culinary culture of India and China and uses the classic Chinese wok to produce fantastic dishes that would leave one craving for more. Chef Lee has dished a menu that features not only the classics like Chicken Chilli and Szechuan but also some of his own creations, making most of finest local British produce, and ensuring there is enough variety for everyone to enjoy!
Hakkaland has won not only the hearts of the people of UK but has also made its mark in the culinary world by winning numerous awards and accolades. It has been the winner of the 2017 Fusion Restaurant of the Year award, the prestigious British Chinese Food Award for Best Fusion Restaurant in London, Best Indo Chinese Restaurant in London 2018 at the TMP Business Awards, the 2018 Runner Up at the Timeout Love Awards London. Hakkaland has also been awarded the prestigious 2018 Certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor. Chef Lee has been felicitated by the Chinese community of Tangra, Kolkata for popularising this unique cuisine. He has now been nominated for the Best Chef of the Year in British Indian cuisine by Curry Life magazine.
Hakkaland has also become the go-to place for celebrities visiting London. Popular Bollywood actor Govinda, renowned Bangladeshi singer Runa Laila, and singer Anuradha Paudwal are among a line of famous names who have visited the restaurant. Hakkaland has also won celebrity endorsement Bollywood star Suresh Bhagwat, cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar and many more. Good food, when savoured, leaves an impression in the palate for a lifetime. Lee, Head Chef and Owner of Hakkaland, an Indo-Chinese cuisine restaurant in the UK, believes in garnishing memories by bringing together the essence of two countries in his life. Excerpts:
Q) How did your journey as a chef begin?
I started my career as a chef and worked in several restaurants. I worked in Calcutta, Mangalore and in Mumbai at a famous Chinese restaurant named China Garden. One of the chefs from a famous restaurant in London approached me to work with him, where I showcased my fusion cuisine, which led me to becoming a well-known chef.
Q) What inspired you to start an Indo-Chinese restaurant in the UK?
I was a person who loved the spicy Indian-Chinese served in restaurants. The fusion of Chinese with a taste of Indian spices makes it different. I went to work for Chef Udit Sakhel in London, where I experimented with the Tangra-type Chinese to introduce the Indo-Chinese food and the fusion was accepted by the people of UK.
Q) Out of all the restaurants you have practiced in,which has been your best experience?
I got my best experience by working in the famous restaurant named China Garden, where I actually mastered the art of cooking this cuisine. I worked there for Nelson Wang and considered him as a teacher, and it led to a great knowledge of spices and flavours.
Q) What,according to you,is the most important ingredient in the Indo-Chinese cuisine?
I cook food with ingredients not so common in Chinese cuisine including potatoes, okra and cauliflower in a huge quantity. Even the Indian spices in Chinese dishes are the important ingredients to the Indo-Chinese cuisine.
Q) How has your contribution in cuisines brought about a change in the global food scene?
People have really loved the new flavour and it has changed the taste buds of people globally. They are really interested in trying new dishes with different spices. People before had classic dishes, but now, with the new cuisine on the list, they really want to try something different. People prefer more of the IndoChinese cuisine than the normal Chinese one.
Q) Do you believe fusion of cuisines is as important as maintaining their authenticity?
Yes, I totally believe in this.
Q) What are your fondest memories of Kolkata and its food?
As we all know, Kolkata is famous for its food. I am also very fond of the taste of Kolkata cuisine. Being from Tangra, adapting Chinese cooking techniques to Indian flavours and tastes was not that difficult for me. Moreover, it helped me a lot to produce fantastic dishes that would leave one craving for more.