How about making your own 'poon choy' and 'yee sang' this Chinese New Year?

Assemble your 'poon choy' layer by layer, from humble ingredients to more luxurious ones
Assemble your 'poon choy' layer by layer, from humble ingredients to more luxurious ones

RAWANG, Jan 13 — Joy, health and prosperity in a single dish. These are the wishes many Chinese New Year classics such as yee sang and poon choy are meant to evoke.

There was a time when the reunion dinner was cooked and eaten at home.

These days, it’s far more common to dine outside at restaurants and you'll have to spend a pretty penny on these dishes. After all, who has the time to cook?

Kevin Tee, who has run the successful supper club Ah Tee Private Kitchen for several years now, believes it’s also the fear and a lack of cooking skills that deter many from attempting these festive favourites at home.

He says, “For example, poon choy can have up to 14 different ingredients and that makes people step away from making it as they think it’s too challenging. I hope to change that with my cooking classes.”

Last December, Tee got started with his series of Chinese New Year-themed classes with even one on how to make yee sang.

He recalls, “A group of friends requested it so we held the cooking class at one of their homes. The first dish I shared was my Fruity Yee Sang which I had blogged about a few years ago. They kept the recipe but insisted on having a hands-on class to improve their cooking for the upcoming Chinese New Year.”

The proof of the pudding is whether students try making a dish after the class — sometimes cooking classes are simply a means for friends to catch up over the weekend by doing something together (and that’s a perfectly worthy pursuit).

Eager participants during a cooking class by Ah Tee Private Kitchen’s Kevin Tee (second from left)
Eager participants during a cooking class by Ah Tee Private Kitchen’s Kevin Tee (second from left)

Beaming, he shares, “Most of them made a second portion of yee sang after the class to share with their family members and friends.

"They were excited as everyone loved it. I received their thank you messages just a few days after the class and they sent me photos of their final results.”

In selecting recipes for his classes, Tee is very open about it — he can suggest or the participants can decide – though festive dishes such as yee sang and poon choy are popular.

He says, “Our cooking class will emphasise the easier cooking methods. I always simplify the steps but not forgetting the taste and garnishing, the way I always do it. Almost everyone wants to cook, but the complexity of some dishes stopped them before.”

The desire to cook at home is one Tee understands, and when one manages a decadent dish such as poon choy, it can feel like quite an accomplishment.

He recalls, “I made my very first poon choy in 2015 after studying so many recipes. I cooked it as a dedication to my family as we used to have the same dishes every Chinese New Year and I was trying something different. I knew it was successful when I received everyone’s compliments!”

Finish the 'poon choy' by ladling a rich broth over everything (left). Tee’s popular Fruity Yee Sang has a fresher bite compared to the traditional 'yee sang' (right)
Finish the 'poon choy' by ladling a rich broth over everything (left). Tee’s popular Fruity Yee Sang has a fresher bite compared to the traditional 'yee sang' (right)

According to Tee, a good poon choy should have each of its ingredients prepared and seasoned separately, then artistically assembled in the casserole, layer by layer.

He suggests beginning with some humble ingredients such as turnips, taro, daikon or white cabbage for the base. Follow these by topping with some luxurious ingredients such as abalone, seafood, roasted meats, scallops and dried oysters.

A final touch of ladling a rich broth over everything and a light simmer of 15 minutes will bring all the ingredients together.

Tee’s newfound experiences as a cooking class instructor aren’t too dissimilar as compared to being a private kitchen host.

He says, “I’m still sharing my culinary ideas with my customers, whether they are dinner guests or students in my class. Even when I’m hosting a private dinner, there are always guests who love to cook; they will always approach me for some cooking tips.”

Sharing a joke during the cooking class
Sharing a joke during the cooking class

What is different, however, is the amount of quality time Tee gets to spend with his customers. During a private dinner, he’d be busy cooking and serving.

With cooking classes, especially smaller groups of half a dozen participants, there is more room for conversations to flow and exchange of knowledge.

The purpose differs too, naturally. Tee says, “Through these classes, I’ve learned that with cooking, you just need to satisfy your guest’s taste buds. When you’re teaching, there’s more preparation required ahead of time. The accuracy of recipes is crucial because they’re not just having one meal with you; they have to replicate the recipe at home. More follow-up is needed.”

The greatest gift of embarking on this new endeavour far outweighs any worries and extra work required though. Tee says, “It’s very interesting for me as I find that I have become more systematic after conducting the classes. I have learned how to communicate better to our guests and students through the language of food.”

CNY Poon Choy Cooking Class with Ah Tee Private Kitchen

Saturday, January 26, two sessions available. First session: 11am-1pm; second session: 3pm-5pm. Price: RM250 per pax, inclusive of ingredients. To register, contact Kevin Tee via email ([email protected]) or call/WhatsApp 012-3830478.

For other cooking class announcements, follow www.facebook.com/ahteekitchen/ for updates. Price range: RM150 to RM350 per pax (subject to types of dishes taught). Also available for mobile cooking class (anywhere within Peninsular Malaysia, minimum 6 participants).

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