Chef’s Corner: Betty Fung

From studying at the the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to sourcing rum in Fiji, Betty Fung’s culinary journey has brought her around the world… and back home again

Betty Fung LaNova B

Congratulations on Lanovab, which just opened in April 2024. Is it your first restaurant?

Yes, I would call it my first restaurant. Before I had Cafe Bon Bon, which was more like a French bistro with coffee and desserts, along with a few dishes I learned in France. Lanovab is a different concept with a bar where people can enjoy cocktails and wine. At the same time, we have Thai fusion now so you can see Asian dishes included on the menu too. Next month we will have a new chef from Malaysia who will prepare Malaysian and Singaporean food like laksa.

Yes, I can see the menu you have now is much larger than at Cafe Bon Bon.

Part of that is because the size of Lanovab is much bigger than at the previous venue. All the things I love to eat and appreciate will be put on the menu. I like laksa, I like Thai cuisine, so we have a chef from Bangkok. We have a team where each person is talented in creating the food from their own country. We also have a Portuguese chef.

Caldo Verde Soup
Caldo Verde Soup

What kind of restaurant is Lanovab? Is it fine dining, or something more casual?

We call it European-Asian fusion. I know that in Macau, people are always looking for Chinese food. We are in a very residential area, so I hope they can come for lunch, maybe everyday. I think if I go for something too Parisian, or too Western, people might get bored with that. I want to keep it diverse, offering both Western and Asian, as well as change the lunch menu often, so people will have more reasons to come back.

LaNova B Australian Wagyu Flank Steak
Australian Wagyu Flank Steak

Your menu is very diverse, as you said. There’s Thai food, Singaporean food, along with more familiar Western favourites like pasta, steak, salads, and soup. Which dishes have proven popular with people so far?

For starters, people like the pomelo salad, which is rich in herbs and spices from Thailand. We use the fresh pomelo which we make everyday. And then we peel it out and use the pomelo fruit, mixing it with coconut, lime juice, peanuts, and Thai herbs and spices.

LaNovaB Pomelo Salad
Pomelo Salad

If you like pasta that’s a little spicy, I would recommend the Tomato and Chili Garlic Spaghetti. It is very simple, using olive oil and linguine. You get all the aroma from the baked garlic which we infuse into the pasta. We also have nice olive oil and cherry tomato which is something very simple but will give your palate a surprise.

LaNova B Tomato and Chili Garlic Spaghetti
Tomato and Chili Garlic Spaghetti

If you prefer creamy things, the smoked salmon lemon linguine is an excellent choice.

It’s a very beautiful restaurant, with a nice open design. Did you design it yourself?

The designer designed it, but I gave some ideas. I took ideas from restaurants I visited in France and Italy. The idea is to create something simple, elegant, modern and nice.

LaNova B seating

You studied for one year at the world famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. How was your experience there?

That was almost ten years ago already. But it was the most beautiful year in my memory, one that I will cherish forever. Pastries are like a piece of art, so that is why I chose Paris. Le Cordon Bleu has a lot of schools in different cities, like Bangkok, Shanghai, etc. I actually could have gone to Shanghai to learn but I preferred to fly to Paris, because that is where the school originally began. Plus Paris is famous and everyone loves the pastries there.

I actually got the idea for my lemon tart from a chef whose shop mainly sold mille-feuille and lemon tarts. If you do well in one significant thing in Paris, you can just sell this one thing and make your living already. People will queue up for only one kind of pastry in Paris.

Do you think that can work here in Macau?

This is something that is different about the culture. French people have more of a passion for the culinary industry. Even the government gives awards and prizes to chefs for one specific kind of dish. I don’t think in Macau you can have one shop just selling lemon tarts and be full of people everyday. We are not yet there.

I would line up everyday for your lemon tart.

Actually, people in Macau do that for egg tarts. Egg tarts are a part of Portuguese culture and all the tourists know about egg tarts. People have gotten used to it already but I don’t think the same thing can work in Macau for lemon tarts. Of course, I still wish people come here for it.

Lanovab flower arrangement

What’s been your proudest moment so far as a chef?

To cook something that people enjoy and you can see the enjoyment on their face. I think for every chef, they would like to see people enjoying the food that they cook. For me, I feel especially proud when it is one of my new creations and then I don’t know the first reaction people will have, if he or she will enjoy or not.

What’s the best thing about being a pastry chef?

If you like sweets, a pastry chef is the best thing to be! I enjoy eating the desserts, so that’s why. Also as a pastry chef, you have an ability to make things pretty. Pastries are a kind of food where everything has to be attractive. Everybody likes beautiful things, so making a dessert is like making art. It’s something beautiful and attractive to eat.

LaNova B Tiramisu
Tiramisu

What’s the worst thing about being a pastry chef?

You need a lot of preparation, things can’t be made immediately all at once, it’s very time consuming. You need more patience, tiny hand movements, and a lot of precision. Everything has to be very very accurate when making pastries. Like the different sugar level, and even the butter consistency is very important.

For example, when I make the Lavender Lemon Tart, if the butter is not the right temperature and the right texture as I want it to be with the lemon custard, it’s not going to work. If you over marinate the butter, it’s not going to co-operate with the custard. So the consistency and the temperature, a lot of things will affect making the pastry. For other kinds of food, a pinch of salt, more or less just affect the saltiness, but pastries are much different. Say when I boil the sugar, and just alter some degree of the temperature, the whole pot of things is going to be thrown. If I’m cooking caramel and overcook it, you cannot bring it back. And you have to control the whole pot.

It sounds like a delicate, fussy kind of food where if one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong.

Yes, that’s right!

You have 5 or 6 different pastries on your menu. Do you create all of your them yourself?

If in terms of the concept, then no.  Tiramisu is tiramisu, which is the same everywhere, but I can say that the idea of bringing the whisky to the chocolate, especially using something like Macallan whisky is unique. People enjoy whisky, they always like to feel the real whisky inside. Of course, it will add to the value because when you use some good quality like Macallan, it will cost you a lot more. But people who really love the whisky can taste the difference, that I am using a good quality of whisky. The Macallan chocolate tart, this pastry, is my one idea and creation.

Lanovab Macallan whisky chocolate tart
Macallan Whisky Chocolate Tart

For the Fiji rum tart, I don’t think other people have this. Because we are the only restaurant to get this Fiji rum. I flew to Fiji to try a lot of things, like the seafood, the rum, and I loved it. From the first sip I tasted, I thought this is something I need to bring to Macau, and make a pastry with it.

Lanovab Fiji rum tart
Fiji Rum Tart

The Fiji rum already tastes a bit like chocolate with a bit of orange, so it will be a good pairing. This is something unique that you cannot taste anywhere . We already have customers coming back because of the Fiji rum chocolate tart.

Is the Lavender Lemon Tart your best seller?

Yes.

Lanovab lavender lemon tart
Lavender Lemon Tart

What makes it so good, in your opinion.

Because they feel like they are in the lavender field. Even in Macau you cannot see a lavender field, but this will give people some fantasy, something like they are standing in the middle of a lavender field, especially for those who really went to Provence before. And this is what they smell, the aroma of the lavender flowers there.

Chinese desserts are a little different than Western desserts, yet most of your customers are Chinese. Have you had to modify your pastries to suit the Asian market?

Honestly I just reduce the amount of sweetness. I keep the traditional recipe of the things I learned in Paris, just decrease the sugar level.

If you weren’t a pastry chef, which job would you be doing?

Before I was working at the airport as an Aeronautical Information Officer, verifying the flight routes for the pilot. I wasn’t giving commands to the pilots but we had to ensure the flight routes were safe. We had to monitor the correct flight level, and if it was entering some restricted airspace. So when the pilot gave us the flight planning I had to verify it. If it was okay, we would send the plan to all of the air traffic airspace they are going to pass through.

It sounds very stressful.

You need to be sure everything is correct. You have to pay a lot of attention to it. I worked a long time there but I quit because I wanted to chase my dream. I wanted to do some cooking class. Even before I went to the airport, I wanted to do something related to F and B. But you know as a girl, if you study, your parents won’t allow you to be a chef. Especially for Chinese, they see it as a job for people who aren’t good at studying, so that’s why you have to go to the kitchen to peel potatoes. That’s the traditional Chinese idea.  Of course my parents are Chinese and wouldn’t allow me to graduate then go to the kitchen to work.

So after I worked in the airport for 10 years, I was able to support my living, with own savings and security. So even if I didn’t work for a few years I could still support myself. That’s when I went to Paris to study culinary arts. My previous manager in the airport always said they would welcome me back, if I wanted to go back, since they trained me for a year. But until now I have no regrets following my dream.

LaNova B smoked salmon linguine
Smoked Salmon Linguine

Has cooking always been something you wanted to do since when you were young?

When I was in primary school, I already borrowed some books from the library and tried to cook by myself. I learned sushi when I was in Primary 6. At that time in Macau, there weren’t many Japanese restaurants and I think I only tasted sushi once or twice when I was a little girl. Japanese restaurants also cost a lot and as a child, I couldn’t pay by myself, only my parents would take me there. So I was only able to go once or twice.

I ended up going to the library to learn how to make sushi. I remember borrowing the book and needing to return it within a week. During that week, I tried 2 or 3 times and then I finally made the perfect sushi rice, which is the most important thing about sushi, is the rice. You need to put in some kind of vinegar and that time it wasn’t so easy to buy the ingredients, even the pickles, and carrots weren’t easy to buy. I finally found some of the supermarkets where I could buy them. I even shared the sushi with my family and friends, cutting it into pieces then putting it into some boxes. They all loved it and it made me start cooking more.

So why didn’t 18 or 19 year old Betty Fung pursue cooking at that time?  Just because of the stigma?

Even when I was studying in university in Macau, and afterwards working, I never stopped cooking. I learned all the culinary techniques from the IFT school, which has many culinary courses. So I learned Portuguese cuisine, Italian cuisine, Japanese cuisine, everything which is necessary for a career in F and B. I even learned coffee, wine, and flower arrangement. Everything needs to go with everything, all together.

Lanovab Marocchino with Belgium chocolate
Marocchino with Belgium Chocolate

You are sitting here now drinking wine in the evening, but in the afternoon you will want to drink coffee. This beautiful flower on the table will give you happiness when you see it. I learned all the flower arrangement from my French florist, and every time I fly to Paris, we still go out and have dinner together.

Are you better than Janice Wong?

Why do you compare me with Janice Wong?

She’s the only other Asian pastry chef I know, because she was at MGM before.

Yes she was there when MGM Cotai opened up. I used to eat her chocolate in Hong Kong, where she had a dessert bar. Her signature is the chocolate she makes, which I like very much, because she creates it like art.

Different pastry chefs have their own character, and thing they’re good at. So even if we have the same recipe in our hand, it’s going to come out differently. I have a pastry assistant and the things she creates is different than me.

Final question. For all those aspiring pastry chefs out there, do you think they must go to a school like Le Cordon Bleu?

It depends. If you’re already with a very good pastry chef, you will learn in the kitchen. If you spend enough time there with a good mentor, then you will gradually know how to make a good pastry. But if you want to know all the chemical things behind it, like what happens to different sugars at different temperatures, how you make the sugar, the caramel, or to do sugar craft or make a sugar masterpiece, then you probably need to join courses in a pastry school.

If you would like to just how to make a good dessert then it’s not necessary. Everybody can be a pastry chef like me!

Thank you Betty for a wonderful interview!  Best of luck at Lanovab!

Betty Fung and the Maven of Macau at LaNova B