Cateys 2021: Chef Award: Andrew Wong

08 September 2021
Cateys 2021: Chef Award: Andrew Wong

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Andrew Wong had no intention of becoming a chef. Although he spent his childhood working behind the scenes at Kym's, his family's Cantonese restaurant in Pimlico, he eagerly left that world behind him when he enrolled at Oxford University to study chemistry.

However, a career as a chemist wasn't to be, and after 18 months, Wong transferred to the London School of Economics to study social anthropology. But when his father died, he felt compelled to return to the family business to help his mother, cutting short his studies once again. Aged 22 at the time, he found himself increasingly drawn to the kitchen – and so began his love affair with cooking.

He took evening classes at Westminster Kingsway College, while at the same time working at Kym's and completing his degree at LSE. He then decided to expand his knowledge of Chinese cuisine by spending a year working in China and studying at the Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu. It inspired him to develop a concept far from the anglicised Cantonese dishes found in most Chinese restaurants in the UK, instead focusing on China's regional cuisine.

He returned to London in 2012 and took over Kym's, refurbishing it and renaming it A Wong in honour of his parents Albert and Annie. It was a huge success, gaining a Michelin star in 2017, and four years later a second – the first Chinese restaurant in the world outside Asia to do so.

His "inspiration comes from his travels through China, and he presents his own unique interpretations of dishes", declares Michelin's little red book. "He is also a chef who never stops refining his own creations and these now demonstrate extraordinary sophistication, creativity and depth of flavour."

The dining room at A Wong is the domain of his wife Nathalie. Here, enormous focus is given to educating diners and enlightening them about a particular dish's true heritage.

In 2018, Wong opened Kym's in London's Bloomberg Arcade, although the pandemic and the work-from-home directive soon ended that dream. However, in 2019, he proudly opened Baoshuan at the Oberoi New Delhi in the role of ‘mentor chef', and in 2020 became a research associate at London's School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), studying ancient recipes via history books and archaeological treasures.

What the judges said

"An incredible contributor to the British food scene and a pioneer of Chinese food. He has changed the dynamic and the rules relating to his own culture's cuisine. This could have been a huge risk, but he has succeeded, as demonstrated by those two Michelin stars." - Paul Ainsworth

"An exceptional chef, Andrew is both rich in heritage and ground-breaking. A wonderfully intelligent, charming and charismatic chef whose journey should be inspiring to all." - Tom Kerridge

"Andrew has transformed the perception of Chinese food in London. He is dedicated to exploring ancient Chinese gastronomy and educating the next generation of chefs about the vast diversity of Chinese cuisine while applying modern techniques." - Clare Smyth

The shortlist

  • Tommy Banks, the Black Swan, Roots York and Made in Oldstead, Yorkshire
  • Mark Birchall, Moor Hall, Aughton, Lancashire
  • Adam Byatt, Trinity, Upstairs and Bistro Union, London
  • Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Northcote, Langho, Lancashire
  • Niall Keating, Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
  • Andrew Wong, A Wong, London

The judges

  • Amanda Afiya, co-founder, Sauce Intelligence
  • Paul Ainsworth, chef-patron, Paul Ainsworth at No 6
  • Sat Bains, chef-patron, Restaurant Sat Bains
  • Claude Bosi, chef-patron, Claude Bosi at Bibendum
  • Tom Kerridge, chef-patron, the Hand & Flowers
  • Tom Kitchin, chef-proprietor, Kitchin Group
  • Clare Smyth, chef-patron, Core by Clare Smyth
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