Brits Abroad – Kevin Cape

28 August 2012 by
Brits Abroad – Kevin Cape

Kevin Cape has spent nearly 20 years working in Asia and is currently the corporate chef of Shook! Shanghai, a restaurant on the penthouse floor of the Swatch Art Peace hotel on the city's Bund waterfront. Janet Harmer hears the ups and downs of working in China's most populated city

Can you provide an overview of Shook! Shanghai?
The restaurant, which is the flagship operation for the YTL Group, has an open kitchen and provides elements of Chinese, Japanese, south east Asian and modern western cuisines. It is one of the city's leading restaurants and has won many awards since opening last year.

Describe some of the typical dishes at Shook! Shanghai
One of my signature dishes consists of lamb chops, cooked in a European style, but then coated with spicy Massaman sauce (southern Thai curry) and garnished with Thai pickled tomatoes. Another one is a lemon-flavoured risotto topped with simply steamed fish served with Panaeng sauce, which is of southern Thai origin.

What initially attracted you to work in Asia in 1993?
As a young chef, I was always intrigued by the influence of Asian cuisine. In the UK at the time, there was an explosion of ideas about the style of food, but without any real understanding for it. While I read books, I knew that in order to get to grips with the food, I would have to travel to the region.

You had a long spell with Eastern & Oriental Express - what were the highlights of those years?
Apart from cooking I also spent much of my time with them travelling as an ambassador for the company. I visited Boston, New York, South Africa, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpar and Tokyo, among other places. It is good for a chef to come out of the kitchen and communicate with guests.

What do you like most about working in Shanghai?
It is a totally vibrant city with so much going on.

What do you dislike?
After being in the hot part of Asia for so long, I hate the winters in Shanghai.

What are the key challenges of working in Shanghai?
It isn't difficult to recruit staff, but there is a lack of passion for the industry as it is all about the bottom line dollar.

Has going abroad provided you with greater opportunities than if you had stayed in the UK?
Yes - for various reasons financially and for the lifestyle it has provided.

What do you think the hospitality industry in the UK could learn from the Chinese hospitality industry?
Business is booming in Shanghai and in China people do not have time to wait, so as a chef you must step outside the box and respond quickly. Forget about the more laid back European mentality - such a concept does not exist in Asia.

Do you continue to keep up with culinary trends and colleagues in the UK?
Absolutely, but not only in the UK - also the rest of the world.

Is there a large British contingent working within hospitality in Shanghai?
Unfortunately there are very few British in Shanghai.

Do you ever plan to return to work in the UK?
Very unlikely - only if I had the opportunity to teach the philosophy of Asian cuisine. My family and roots are now firmly in Asia. I am also very fortunate in that I can communicate in three Asian languages: Thai, Chinese and Malay.

2009-present Corporate executive chef, Shook! Shanghai, Shanghai, China
â- 2007-2009 Corporate executive chef, YTL Group, Malaysia
â- 1993-2007 Executive chef, Eastern & Oriental Express, Singapore
â- 1991-1993 Executive chef, Tarnhouse hotel, Ambleside, Cumbria
â- 1987-1991 Executive chef, Bell, Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire
â- 1982-1987 Executive sous chef, Connaught hotel, London

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