Peggy Chan may come across as reticent and soft-spoken on the surface, but once we begin to explore the nexus of food and sustainability, her face immediately lights up. She’s the chef and owner of Nectar*, a progressive plant-based restaurant in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, and her obvious delight in food was fostered from a young age. Her mother, an adventurous gourmet, would regularly take her family to an austere Vietnamese restaurant in Jardin Place for yellow curry with baguettes and balut (fertilised duck egg). Given the visceral nature of this family ritual, it remains as one of her fondest memories involving food. “The combination of the creamy hard-boiled yolk and tenderness of the carcass, accompanied with what is essentially a healing, bone broth simmered in its own shell, was so memorable to me,” recalls Chan.
Food’s transcendent ability to ravish man’s senses alone, however, doesn’t quite encapsulate Chan's cooking. A watershed moment in Chan’s life took place approximately 15 years ago, when she first learnt about Monsanto’s seed patenting model that impinged on the livelihood of farmers. Confronted with injustice persistent in the macro food ecosystem, she saw the need to wield her voice for good. “Food is not merely a way to connect with people, but a prism through which we think about our society and its systems, and how we can make it better,” says Chan.
Left: During her visit to Singapore in October, Chan explored the fresh produce at Tekka Centre’s market. Right: Sketches of Chan’s plant-driven dishes are prime examples of her assiduous creative process.
Nectar, Chan’s most recent gastronomic venture, was built on the same values. Guided by the vision to normalise sustainable food systems, anything from the pantry to the placemats had gone through careful considerations. Beyond omitting processed ingredients from her kitchen as well as sourcing locally and regionally, the pioneering chef took multiple strides forward with her seasonal tasting menus by incorporating a panoply of raw food techniques and ensuring that each creation is nutrient-rich. The most noteworthy might be the 12-course ”Edible Solutions” menu (HK$1,380), as it was inspired by Project Drawdown — an initiative that elucidates how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the adverse effects of global warming. Each course shared how diners could take active steps to care for the earth in the face of climate change.
Sustainable dining can often be perceived as esoteric to the uninitiated, yet Chan ever ensures that the minimalist establishment doesn’t isolate guests. In allowing the refined and well-composed dishes to take centre stage and being intentional about closing the chasm between each guest and staff, the restaurant adroitly avoids the trappings of the traditional fine dining experience. “It’s laden with negative connotations, especially the sense of sterility and formality, and I don’t want anybody to feel this way at Nectar,” explains Chan, who sees her restaurant as a greenhouse for the cross-pollination of ideas and ingredients, nurturing guests to explore new territory.
“At the end of the day, I’m only proud of a dish when it gets people thinking about something. If they are moved by that particular dish, it means that I’ve played a part in their [sustainability] journey,” says Chan.
Below, her recipe for “Plant-Rich Diet”, one of the dishes from Nectar’s “Edible Solutions” menu.
*Editor’s note: At the time of writing in December 2019, the restaurant announced via Instagram that it will cease its operations by the end of the month, “due to turbulent political and economical hindrances in Hong Kong”. Private dinners and event bookings are, however, available for limited reservations till March 2020.
Peggy Chan’s Recipe for “Plant-Rich Diet”
“Plant-Rich Diet” is Chan’s vegan rendition of dal makhani, a black lentils-based Indian dish, that’s part of Nectar’s 12-Course “Edible Solutions” menu.
The “Plant-Rich Diet” dish is drizzled with dairy-free walnut milk.
Dal Makhani Ingredients
Whole Black Lentils 600g
Yellow Split Peas 300g
Grapeseed Oil 40ml
Ginger Paste 50g
Kasoori Methi 20g
Deggi Mirch 10g
Cumin Powder 20g
Tomato Puree 150g
Water as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Method for Dal Makhani
1. Rinse lentils and peas thoroughly, cover with water, bring to boil until thoroughly cooked, about 40 minutes.
2. In a separate pot, bloom ginger paste with oil, add spices and turn stove on to med-low heat.
3. Add the cooked lentils and peas to the spices and ginger, fold in tomato puree, add in enough water to cover all of the lentils and peas.
4. Bring to a boil and slowly simmer until starches of lentils and peas have been released evenly into the liquid. This will take about 1.5–2hrs. Careful not to bring the heat too high as cooked pulses will burn easily with high heat.
5. Season to taste.
Walnut Milk Ingredients
Raw organic walnuts 200g
Filtered water 450ml (for soaking up to 12 hours, at least 8 hours)
Filtered water 800ml (for blending)
Cumin Powder 2g
Turmeric Powder 2g
Method for Walnut Milk
1. Rinse and soak walnuts in filtered water for at least 8 hours to activate the nut for easier digestion and to remove enzyme inhibitors.
2. Rinse again after soaking with filtered water.
3. Add nuts to high-speed blend, cover with 300ml filtered water to start, blend until smooth. Add rest of the 500ml filtered water and spices.
Final Assembly Ingredients
Fried curry leaves
Toasted brown rice puff (can be bought from a store)
1. Place perfectly cooked dal in a brown, top with brown rice puff, fried curry leaves and drizzle walnut milk over.
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