Features On the Table

YAO Restaurant

Photo courtesy of YAO Restaurant

Entering a new generation of restaurants reimagining Cantonese cuisine, YAO, by Chef-Owner Kenny Leung and Co-Owner Thomas Tang of the acclaimed August Gatherings, is an evolution of the beloved dishes cultivated there over the years, along with new creations and their unparalleled dedication to culinary excellence and service.

Chef Kenny’s journey began at the tender age of 15 when he immersed himself in a government culinary program in Canton, China, delving deep into the artistry of Cantonese cuisine. His formative years were spent honing fundamental skills, complimented by an apprenticeship in Canton Culinary School. After graduating, Chef Kenny flourished at Canton’s prestigious White Swan Hotel and Restaurant, an institution revered for its Cantonese gastronomy; it was the only restaurant to earn a Michelin Star when Michelin Guide graced Guangzhou, China. There, he collaborated with acclaimed chefs from diverse provinces, exposing him to various cuisine techniques. In 1988, he moved to New York City, venturing into the bustling culinary landscape and further enhancing his culinary repertoire. In 2015, he co-founded August Gatherings with Tang.

Tang has been immersed in hospitality since he was a child. He grew up as the son of one of China’s top chefs who catered for regal events. Thomas shopped in the local markets with his father for the best ingredients which were used in the elaborate banquets that his father would prepare for his clientele. As he matured into an adult, Thomas moved to New York City to set his own course in the culinary industry. He met Chef Kenny while working together in the original location of August Gatherings. The two became fast friends and decided to join forces to purchase the Canal Street location of August Gatherings and have been partners ever since.

For YAO, Chef Kenny and his team of 20 cooks are creating a canvas that showcases the past, present and future of Cantonese cuisine. Center to the YAO’s ethos are the crown jewels of Cantonese cuisine, abalone, sea cucumber and fish maw—textures less familiar to the American palate—emphasizing their gelatinous, chewy nature and remarkable nutritional value.

Chef Kenny’s modern innovations and standout signature dishes include the Traditional Chinese Salt-Baked Free-Range Chicken. Although Chef maintains the tradition of the dish, he modernizes it by air drying the chicken, then wrapping it in parchment paper and manually basting it in an old and new salt combination (the old for smokiness, the new for saltiness) then slow baking it for one-and-a-half hours, producing a bird that is tender, moist and rich in flavor. It is presented to the diner in an ornate clay pot, then cut and portioned by the server. The Fusilli with Wild Octopus and Bone Marrow is a nod to the chef’s admiration for Italian cuisine. The dish is innovated by braising the noodles instead of frying them. He creates a tomato-based sauce made with fresh Chinese salted fish instead of anchovy giving it an umami flavor. He then adds a cilantro and oyster sauce made from dried oysters and bone marrow, enriching the depth of fl avors into the noodles. For the Fried Rice with Roasted Eel, Chef Kenny wraps the rice in an egg wash so the rice adheres to the grain, creating a soft texture. This technique was used for the kings of ancient China. Chef Kenny uses a long-grain Jasmine rice from Thailand and a short-grain rice from Japan. Dry-Aged Tomahawk Steak, a classic Western dish that has a Cantonese twist by using black salt to harmonize the richness of the steak. He then creates a special sauce infused with red wine and hibiscus, combining traditional techniques with modern flavors. The Portuguese Egg Custard Tart, the chef’s gem, is a very sentimental dish to Chef Kenny, as it brings back childhood memories. It takes eight hours of preparation to hand-kneed the dough into more than 20 layers. For the egg preparation, he uses fresh, local milk and farm raised eggs to prepare the perfect custard and is then caramelized Portuguese style. August Gatherings sells more than 500 tarts daily.

Chef Kenny has added a seven-course tasting menu, named “Jia Yan,” a Chinese word loosely translating to “a celebratory family gathering” or “banquet.” The tasting menu begins with Deep Fried Hokkaido Scallop followed by Shikoku Bamboo Shrimp Dumpling. The banquet continues with Gold Leaf Wrapped Fried Abalone, sustainably sourced grade-6 wild abalone from South Africa is deep-fried, sitting atop of a crispy wonton skin with house made sauce, encased in edible gold leaf. One of the main stars of the progression is the Alaskan King Crab Wensi Tofu Soup, which Chef Kenny uses immaculate knife skills to create razor-thin slices of tofu, taking hours of preparation, producing 800-1000 identical slices of tofu in each portion. Grilled Angus Short Ribs, tenderized with kiwi, drizzled tableside in a pear and oyster sauce. The next course follows with Snow Pea Shoots in chicken broth. The final course is Wild Octopus, from Spain, slow cooked for six hours; it is then laid on a bed of Hong Kong style longevity noodles. Seasonal signature desserts include a warm Deep Fried Mochi Sesame Ball filled with Red Bean Paste served on top of a homemade seasonal fuji apple sorbet, providing a contrast in flavors and temperatures as well as a Pumpkin Cake filled with custard.

213 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10038
(917) 265-8119
Monday – Sunday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m
@yaorestaurant | yaonyc.com