Chui Lee Luk is the fourth and current owner of Claude's. She was born in Singapore and spent part of her childhood in Sabah, Malaysia. She moved with her family to Sydney when just seven years old.
The tradition of good eating has always been a part of her life. Some of her earliest childhood memories are of meals shared with family and friends both in restaurants and at home in an environment where the children were encouraged to follow the lead of adults in trying a wide range of foods. Once in Australia, sharing around the dinner table was a way for the family to make new friends, thus instilling in her the importance of hospitality.
After school, Chui studied Law and Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. After qualifying as a lawyer, she discovered that her calling was to cook professionally so she enlisted for work experience with Christine Manfield at Paramount. This was enough to convince her that cooking and running a restaurant was the thing she wanted to do in life.
With some exposure to the life of a cook, she realised how great a challenge it was for women to reach the top in the professional kitchen so she decided to get her grounding with the female chefs she admired; starting with Annabel Savill at Emporio Armani. From there she worked with Kylie Kwong at Wockpool extending her knowledge of Chinese food and learning to adapt it to a restaurant environment. Later she moved over to Cleopatra in Blackheath to join Dany Chouet, where she learned about the facets of provincial French cooking. And following, six months in the kitchen of Banc with Liam Tomlin was an education in the operations of a large fast-paced kitchen.
While valuing what she'd learned so far, Chui had her sights set on something more. Her goal was to work in the kitchen of Claude's with Tim Pak Poy. She admired his ability to combine classical French techniques with inspiration from his Asian heritage, and felt that she would be able to do the same. She waited 12 months after an initial meeting with Pak Poy before a chef's position became available at Claude's. Having impressed Pak Poy with what he describes as her "sensitivity, drive, passion and intellect" (not to mention persistence) he happily extended her the invitation to join the team in 2000.
Chui is mindful that the passion and excitement enjoyed by amateur cooks can be lost in the daily routine of running a commercial kitchen. Her cooking comes from the heart and she views each day as a chance to improve on what was achieved the day before. She enjoys creating dishes that can be appreciated on many levels and believes that a harmonious dish can comprise tantalising flavours and textures yet present nuances of unusual combinations of techniques and ingredients.
In the four years that she worked with Pak Poy at Claude's, she never faltered in making it her goal to one day run a perfect tiny restaurant. In August 2004, she finally got her chance when Pak Poy decided she was the right person to be handed Claude's. Everything has fallen into their rightful place as she now has the arena to give expression to her ideals of hospitality and cuisine.
(1) Most thumbed cookbook?
I have a few favourite including anything by Paula Wolfert, Fuchsia Dunlop, Rosemary Brissenden, Richard Olney.
(2) Last meal you cooked at home?
Barramundi fillet poached in a Chinese herbal concoction
(3) Guilty pleasure?
Italian-style sugar doughnuts, also things like panzarotti. Flavoursome snacks like piadina
(4) Kitchen tool you can't live without?
I guess my favourite vegetable preparation knife
(5) Favourite ingredient(s)?
All ingredients have something that is fascinating about them eg the different ways in which the flesh of fish reacts to cooking.