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Out Of The Frying Pan: Harry Yeung MBE, Yang Sing

David Blake talks Suckling Pig, United and David Cameron with the Emperor of Yang Sing restaurant

Written by . Published on April 18th 2013.


Out Of The Frying Pan: Harry Yeung MBE, Yang Sing

Not only is Harry Yeung possibly the finest Cantonese chef in the UK, but he is also a bona fide Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He's been around in Manchester delighting tastebuds since the 1970s...and all he ever wanted to be was a footballer. 

What’s your favourite dish on the menu? 

The hand-roasted suckling pig. We carve the skin off, chop the skin and put it back on the pig. We then serve it with homemade flatbread, cucumber and spring onion, it just melts in your mouth. After you’ve eaten the skin we take the carcass back to the kitchen, carve it up again and bring the meat back out to the table. It can feed around ten people but needs to be ordered beforehand. The reason I like it so much is because of the big occasion, it’s memorable food. 

Pigging outPigging out

What’s your favourite dessert? 

Unfortunately I’m diabetic, but anyway, I’m sweet enough. 

What’s your favourite fruit? 

Anything in season. In this country the strawberry has just come in to season. Nothing is better than an English strawberry in season. I go to the markets just to have a taste. 

What’s your favourite vegetable? 

Well at the moment we’re in asparagus season and the season for English Asparagus is only about one and a half months. A lot of the time asparagus is Mexican, Peruvian, American, but English asparagus is shorter and fatter. The taste is different. Better. When they grow a vegetable, pack it all up and fly it across an ocean then it loses taste. The English asparagus is cut tonight and on the market tomorrow. Much better. 

English asparagus, short and fatEnglish asparagus, short and fat

And your favourite takeaway? 

It’s very rare that I’ll eat a takeaway. I don’t really like them. So you cook something, for example crispy noodles, then you pack it all up and it goes soft and soggy. 

Why did you become a chef? 

Because we were poor. In the old days when you worked in the kitchen, they didn’t just provide you with work, they also provided food and somewhere to sleep.

The real reason I became a chef is that when I was young my father was granted a visa to come over and work in London.

My cousin had opened a restaurant there so he invited my father to come over and work. One night he was at a leaving party, had a little too much to drink and fell down the stairs. After that he was taken ill from work for two years. Two whole years because of his back.

So I was told, I was the eldest one so had to stop going to school and provide for the family. This was maybe 1963 or '64. After those two years I went back to school but all my friends were two years ahead. I saw them finish school and graduate, but they had no jobs. They all stayed at home.

Before I could finish school my father applied for us to come join and him here in Manchester. So I came here and said "What is a good way to make a living here?" He said, "The restaurant business." Which I then hated.

But yeah, he was right. 

Restaurant interiorRestaurant interior

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

After my customer eats, when they sit there all full and happy. 

What do you least enjoy about your job? 

Arguments. Arguments everywhere. You see, I have arguments with the other chefs because I want them to follow my way. I argue with this one (pointing to his daughter, Bonnie) and especially that one over there (pointing to his son with newly dyed red hair)… I mean, just look at his hair. 

What has been the craziest moment of your career? 

When I received a notification saying I was getting an MBE. I didn’t even know who had recommended me. So I went to Buckingham Palace to receive the MBE from the hand of Prince Charles. He asked me ‘Is your restaurant nice?’ So I said, "Why don’t you come and try?" He hasn’t been. Yet. 

 

Prince Charles asks the way to the Yang Sing: he's not found itPrince Charles asks the way to the Yang Sing: he's not found it

Ever wanted to pack it all in? 

Yes, now. I want to pack it all in now. I mean, look at this, look how quiet it is. The recession has hit. For example when United were playing, we used to be packed with people before and after the match. But now people are trying to be safe, they just go to the match, nothing else. 

Do you ever take a day off?

Not really, my whole life is here. My business. My family. My whole life. 

What's your favourite place to eat outside your own restaurant? 

I go everywhere, everywhere. I like Italian, especially linguine on its own with garlic oil and only one chilli. It goes with anything. We mostly go to family restaurants, they usually know where we’re from so sometimes make me a dish that’s not on the menu. 

Is it true that chef’s don’t like to cook at home? 

Yeah, yeah. I like to relax because I cook enough here. When I go home I like somebody else to cook for me. 

How do you relax? 

I watch United, I’m a big fan. I actually have four season tickets, you can tell how long someone has had a season ticket because of the colour. I have a silver one. 

A Yeung Harry - not reallyA Yeung Harry - not really

What if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life? 

Rice (Bonnie reminds Harry that he’s not allowed to eat rice, he continues regardless). Because there are all different types, fried rice, egg fried rice, egg white fried rice. 

And one drink? 

No, I don’t drink. I need to set an example here. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef? 

I’d be a footballer, especially when you can make £250k a week. When I was in Hong Kong I had a team, our school had a team and so did our village. When they finished harvesting the field we used to take our football on to the land. We didn’t have a proper pitch so we just put two bamboo sticks in the ground. 

What’s the most complex dish you’ve ever made? 

One time we made a dish for a competition, it was amazing. We built up some fish and glazed walnuts on one side and a lake made from bright green gelatine on the other. Then we carved out a fisherman and had him fishing in the lake, we even put a fish on his line and some ducks in the water. 

Fishing for excellent foodFishing for excellent food

Have you cooked for anyone famous? 

David Cameron, he was in about two months ago. Even before he was Prime Minister he used to come in here, when there was a Conservative conference or something. He’s easy to get along with, maybe behind close doors he’s a bastard, I don’t know. The problem is that nobody lets you know when he’s coming. His security come down and say we want this table and that table and that table. So before we know it we’ve lost all these tables. They do pay though. He swears a lot, David. 

A very famous person and notable chef and a man called David CameronPrime chef and Prime Minister

Now Alex Ferguson, he actually phones me before he comes in. One time he came in with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I had to ask everyone, customers and staff, to not ask for their autographs. When they were finished and happy I let one of my staff go over. Sir Alex asked him if he wanted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s signature, he said no, he didn’t know who he was. 

Man in the mask is saying, Man in the mask is saying, "Who is this man shaking my hand?"

What are your aspirations for the future? 

To retire and watch United. I want to live for half a year in Hong Kong and the other half back here. I’ll follow the hot weather around, when its winter here I’ll go there for six months. The food is magnificent in Hong Kong. You don’t just have Cantonese, you have Shanghai, Beijing, it’s all regional and different. I’ve just been to Thailand actually, but you need to be careful. They’ll rip you off. 

Finally, Confidential have kicked up a fuss over the rise in on-street parking charges. Any thoughts? 

The council are not helping the businesses in town. You see, all the parking meters around here are empty because they are too expensive. Even at the weekend they are empty. We use to have two sittings, the teatime and pre-theatre sitting and then late dinner. But the six o’clock sitting has completely gone, so evening service doesn’t really begin until later. The communication with us is poor. The parking attendants, they stand and wait for our customers parking to run out. I think that the council must have some shares in the Trafford Centre because that’s where they’re driving them to.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

avoApril 19th 2013.

What happened between him and Gerry to make them fall out??

1 Response: Reply To This...
David BlakeApril 22nd 2013.

Gerry was a City fan

Simon TurnerApril 19th 2013.

His stories about Cameron and Fergie are great, funny guy, his wit is drier than a newly crisped noodle.

LottieMay 27th 2013.

That fisherman dish is awesome.

LottieMay 27th 2013.

That fisherman dish is ace.

LottieMay 27th 2013.

So awesome I said it twice look.

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