ShenzhenParty: Executive Pastry Chef Kevin Lee, thank you for speaking to ShenzhenParty.
Kevin: Welcome to The Langham.
ShenzhenParty: Thank you very much. First of all I’d like to find out a bit about you. Which part of France are you from?
Kevin: I’m from Paris, in the south-west.
ShenzhenParty: Did you study dessert making in Paris?
Kevin: Yes, I grew up in Paris. I studied culinary pastry, bakery, ice cream making and catering in a culinary school in Paris and then I moved around. I grew up in Paris, I was born in Paris.
ShenzhenParty: You’ve travelled extensively since leaving France. Which is your favourite city and why?
Kevin: I did travel a lot over the last 15 years. I would say I’ve travelled to a few continents, maybe all of them, and I would say I am more attracted to Asian culture. I’ve been to a lot of places; maybe it’s my half-Chinese blood that makes me more attracted to Asian culture.
ShenzhenParty: Do you have a particular favourite city or favourite country?
Kevin: I stayed for seven years in Thailand and I’ve had a house there for seven years. I’ve worked for the last 2 years in Thailand so I do like Thai culture, the land of smiles they say. I love travel, I do travel a lot. I’m experiencing the Chinese culture now and I would not say it’s similar but Asian cultures are very calm, very patient, and this is what I like the most.
ShenzhenParty: What inspired you to move to Shenzhen and start transforming The Langham’s dessert menu?
Kevin: I would say The Langham is a very luxury brand, classic luxury, that’s what we do. Shenzhen Langham is representative of China. It’s a young city only 36 years old, and growing up it’s a very vibrant city and luxurious. So Langham makes me go back to luxury classic style. This is how I am, how I make classic food so it matches with my vision of pastry. There’s a similar match about the vision of the Langham and how I work. It’s a nice vibrant city.
ShenzhenParty: It is, yes. Did you work at The Langham before moving to Shenzhen?
Kevin: No, but I worked in London so I knew very well the brand there, it’s a classic brand. As well in this hotel we have the first chocolate room in Shenzhen so it’s very good as a pastry chef to show our talent, our creativity. We can be very flexible. I’m lucky I can do whatever I want with pastries and desserts. We can make so many creations together with my team, create something amazing to show this first chocolate room of Shenzhen. It’s a great opportunity to shine.
ShenzhenParty: The afternoon teas you’ve designed look amazing. I’d love to try them all! How did you decide which desserts to include in each afternoon tea set?
Kevin: The Langham has a long tradition of authentic British afternoon tea in the Langham. It was the first in the world to have afternoon tea which started in the 1860s, so there’s over 150 years of tradition. With designing the afternoon teas, the most important is the theme, so first you have to come up with the theme. For example, here you have this one which is tropical. We use a very famous brand of chocolate which is Valrhona, which is very good chocolate. It’s more high standard so we make a chocolate thing about it. For this one the theme was tropical because it’s the start of the summer so I guess it’s a good one to create for the start of summer. After the theme you just need to find the flavours; after I have the theme I have the flavours rolling in my mind.
ShenzhenParty: So how did you pick the themes? You’ve said about the tropical one, but what about the others, the lobster and the chocolate?
Kevin: Lobster is high quality food. We are a luxury hotel so the lobster attracts the guests as well and it’s really nice to have lobster in the afternoon. I don’t make lobster cake! But for the sandwich the lobster is always nice, the guests are always happy to have lobster. About the desserts, there’s so many – like I said – boiling ideas. With the tropical we have papaya, lychee, passion fruit, banana, mango, coconut and pineapple, so it’s quite a lot of tropical flavours also including classics like chocolate or berries. I try to have all these combined together for the afternoon tea.
ShenzhenParty: Are they all dishes you’ve made before or have you made any completely new desserts for the afternoon teas?
Kevin: For example this one, a mango tart, yes I’ve made a mango tart before. But this one the papaya religieuse I’ve actually never made before. The style I’ve done, but the flavours, papaya flavours, are new for me to make. I’ve made classics like chocolate, coffee, vanilla, but papaya style is something different, maybe an upgrade to the classic one.
ShenzhenParty: What is the most challenging dish you’ve ever made, most difficult to make? Did you get to eat any of it?
Kevin: Macaroon. Everybody loves macaroons but it’s very delicate. To make it nice and chewy and flavoured. There’s a saying in French which means like a little thing that you would cry if you don’t get it right, I don’t know how you say it in English! But you have to make it perfect; it’s very easy to make it the wrong way. It took me a year to be honest, a year to have it the way I really like it, crunchy, flavoured – there’s so many flavours you can have – to have it a nice consistency and all our guests are satisfied and like it a lot. I hope you’re going to like it.
ShenzhenParty: It looks amazing. And I love macaroons so I’m sure I will. Do you have a favourite flavour?
Kevin: I like sweet and sour, so I made it white chocolate and passion fruit. The passion fruit’s a bit sour and white chocolate’s a bit sweet so it’s a nice combination. If I was in Thailand I would maybe put a little bit of chilli inside to make it a little bit more interesting, make it a more Thai. You know it’s about the fusion of food. That’s interesting.
ShenzhenParty: That’s the most challenging dish you’ve made. Do you have a favourite dish that you make?
Kevin: Éclair. Éclair is a very classic French dessert, it would represent me. Not easy to make, to make it nice and clean, you need to have some knowledge about it. To make it perfect you need to be very precise and I’m a perfectionist so I like to make it perfect and it’s very classic, everybody likes to eat a chocolate éclair. It’s nothing special but it’s very classic. That’s what we do actually here on the buffet, we make some chocolate éclair that no other hotels make, some classic chocolate éclair. I see myself as a chocolate éclair man.
ShenzhenParty: Wonderful! Are there any dishes you don’t like to make?
Kevin: Not really to be honest. As for my job I like to make a lot of different interesting things. Even if we don’t like the product we keep trying and trying and trying until we get the right consistency, the right product. I’m always happy making something new, I cannot be like, ‘I don’t want to make it’ it’s not professional and it’s not good. In my position if you don’t like to make a dessert that’s not good, they’ll fill up your position! Interesting things are always challenging and I like to create new things. Pastry is about creativity, creating emotions to our guests, to our kids, to everybody. It’s a wonderful job.
ShenzhenParty: My last question is in two parts. How long are you planning to stay in Shenzhen? And what are your plans for the future of The Langham’s fine dining and desserts?
Kevin: I just came so I don’t want to leave right now! Seriously though, I’ve been here for 3 months now, and I really like it. I’ve got a very amazing team, a young team of pastry chefs and bakery chefs with me. When I came here I shared my vision about pastries, about European food which they did not know which they need. I shared my vision and my young staff, which is really good, really understanding and hardworking, understand it and we have the same vision now. We all work together to get our objectives done so now we all have professional objectives, even though they’re only 21, 22, 23 years old, professional objectives and personal at the same time. I consider we are the best in Shenzhen pastry-wise, food-wise, but it’s not enough. We have big objectives and my objectives especially in the Langham, Shenzhen, which is a beautiful hotel and we can shine a lot with the chocolate room as well, we want to be number one in China. This is our objective and this is what I will work very hard for and we are going to achieve something with this. I am very confident about it.
ShenzhenParty: How do you propose going about becoming the best in China?
Kevin: First of all it’s very important for me to share my multicultural background, my French background about food and all my travels that I’ve made over the years. It’s very important to share this with my staff so that we all understand and we’re all on the same page. And to be honest if everybody enjoys their work and is passionate about their job like they are then it’s much easier and it will show by itself, by people talking to each other, guests talking together saying they went to Langham and had a really nice afternoon tea, really nice food there, and it was great. Then people start to talk, we get some more advertisement and we can get more guests and more ways to shine so that would be recognition at the end.
ShenzhenParty: Thank you very much, that’s all my questions unless there’s anything else you’d like to share?
Kevin: I think you should try a sandwich or dessert.
ShenzhenParty: I would love to. Thank you so much!
Very Berry Afternoon Tea
Chocolate Afternoon Tea