Ask Chef Andy Wai what the Chinese value about Cantonese cuisine, and he'll tell you it's how the taste of fresh ingredients always shines through. "Original flavor," he says. "You can see it in the color and presentation, smell and taste it." Steaming is one technique that helps preserve that flavor.
Wai knows what he's talking about. Trained in classic Chinese and Western cuisines in Hong Kong, he came to the United States in 1988 to work for San Francisco's Harbor Village restaurant, where he was the executive chef from 1992 to 2005. Now he has his own spacious, light-filled restaurant, Chef Wai, in downtown San Mateo, 20 miles south of San Francisco.
Tucked into one end of the kitchen is a stainless steel cabinet constantly filled with clouds of steam. He pulls open the door and slides in a plate with fish and tofu. Nearby, a stack of giant round metal baskets sits atop billowing jets of steam. He uses both constantly. "In the last few years, organic ingredients, healthy foods, and less grease are very popular," Wai explains. "Steaming works well with this healthful style. It's easy and uses little oil."