CHEF ALEXANDER ONG
DOB: June 19
Ethnicity: Chinese Malaysian
Occupation: Chef & Restaurateur
Residence: California, USA
In a culinary era when the word “fusion” has become synonymous with directionless and tasteless cuisine, Chef Alex Ong breathes new life into this oft feared territory. With an illustrious background that spans from numerous Ritz Carlton properties around the world to the Shangri-la Kuala Lumpur all the way to opening chef at Le Colonial San Francisco, this brilliant and fearless master of Asian cuisine has gained a fanatical following with good reason.
As an ardent fan and chef of Asian and Asian Fusion food myself, admittedly, I have grown somewhat spoiled and snobbish about what qualifies as truly authentic and delicious food. It was then such a pleasant surprise to come across Chef Ong at Betelnut in San Francisco, where his fresh talent and youthful exuberance translate clearly in every Asian dish that comes out of his kitchen. His Pan-Asian menu includes familiar favorites such as Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, Green Papaya Salad and a variety of savory dumplings.
Sounds typical right? That’s exactly the point. While you might hear these same menu items iterated on many other Asian restaurants’ lists, there’s nothing average about Chef Ong’s interpretations. Despite his years away from home, he’s done what few other chefs have managed to do- remember those original pungent flavors and sensual aromas of our beloved Asian nations and recreate them with fresh ingredients and masterful technique. Every dish comes out sharply defined with rich swirls of sweet soy, spicy sambals and fearless seasoning.
Some critics love him while others who have never even set foot in Asia have the audacity to critique his recipes. Me- I don’t listen to fellow food critics who have no sense of integrity or a real command of Asian cuisine. Alex Ong has long been a shining star in my book and my team, family, friends and fans will follow him wherever he decides to grace with his golden restaurateur touch.
Dina’s Interview with Chef Alex Ong
Dina: What brought you to the decision to make food, cooking and the restaurant business your life?
Alex: It was never planned. I was working as a part time waiter at the Shangri-la Hotel in KL & thought that the cooks in their white coats & hats looked good & talked my way in. Once I was in, I managed to steadily moved up the ranks & found out that I was good at it & really enjoyed what I was doing. So I decided to keep going.
Dina: What is one of your most favorite childhood memories related to food?
Alex: Chinese New Year’s Eve. My mom & my aunts would get together & cook up a storm. There would be over 20 dishes & the whole family would sit down for the feast.
Dina: Share with us one of the most difficult moments of your career thus far.
Alex: I think the transition from a chef to an entrepreneur has been a real challenge for me. Chefs think very differently strategy wise than an an entrepreneur. I have got to look beyond operations at the bigger picture.
Dina: Share with us one of the happiest moments of your career thus far.
Alex: The day I decided that I am going to control my own destiny by being my own boss.
Dina: Name 3 of your favorite comfort foods or dishes.
Alex: Only 3 comfort foods? LOL! I am definitely a sucker for carbohydrates. Noodles, dumplings, curries, rotis.
Dina: What genre of cuisine do you enjoy cooking the most?
Alex: The style of cooking that I am known for is definitely Asian which is who I am but I do have a strong background & love for Italian & French cooking.
Dina: If there’s one trend or misconception that the public has today about food that you could change, what would it be?
Alex: The very basis that there is a food trend every year and Americans are falling for that drives me up the wall. These trends saturates the market with the specific food products & no wonder people get sick and tired of cupcakes. A good cupcake is delicious and should never go out of style and the same goes for meatballs or a burger. The food media promotes such trends and the food industry follows. This trend needs to go away.
Chef Alex Ong Bio
Born and raised in Malaysia, Alexander Ong apprenticed at the Shangri La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur for 4 years before coming to United States. Recruited by the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, he has traveled throughout United States working on assignments for the company. In 1995, he moved to San Francisco where he worked with chef Jeremiah Tower at Stars for 3 years. Though he was trained in classical French cooking, he decided to return to his Asian roots and opened Le Colonial’s kitchen and then Xanadu in Berkeley where in 2000 he was named Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Currently he is the Chef & owner of Betelnut Pejiu Wu in San Francisco. Chef Ong is a member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Asian Cuisines Advisory Council. He also serves on the Advisory Board for Asia Society of Northern California.
Related Video- Chef Alex Ong explains Beggar’s Chicken