Yu’s approach to vegetarian food also highlights his command of presentation and flavor. Another signature dish, titled Zen, a stuffed beefsteak tomato with ginkgo, white fungus and mushrooms, manages to achieve a visual expressive force that goes well beyond what is usually associated with food. A simple tomato, meticulous peeled, beautiful in its size and perfect coloring, has a zen-like beauty that does not detract at all from the luscious flavors that it encompasses. Even with such a seemingly simple vegetable dish, it is clear that Yu was worked long and hard to create an impressive depth of flavor that most vegetarian restaurants can only dream about.
“The food served in traditional Cantonese restaurants is constrained by tradition,” he said. “It is no longer competitive. I wanted to take these traditional dishes and give diners a surprise, so that they ask: ‘How can Cantonese food be like this?’ But when they have eaten the dish, they will realize that everything in the dish, from the ingredients to the preparation techniques, are all part of the traditional Cantonese kitchen. This is how I approach developing my dishes.”
Yu pointed out that Cantonese food is now part of the international culinary scene. He wants to impress both Chinese and Western diners. “Good traditional Cantonese restaurants can definitely deliver on flavor,” he said, “but they lack in presentation. “What I am looking for is stylishness,” Yu said. He wants to lead a trend toward a creative style of cuisine that is instantly recognizable as Cantonese, but which is also part of larger trends in fashion and style.
Ultimately, Yu’s immediate aim is startlingly clear. “My aim in coming here is very simple. I want to win this place a Michelin star.”