Given the richness of the Toronto restaurant landscape and the fact that Chef Lee has opened restaurants in New York, Singapore and Washington as well as several others in Toronto, it begs the question: Why this city again when he could go anywhere?
“Of all the places I’ve traveled, I think Toronto, Canada is the greatest place to live,” said Chef Lee. “Canadians are always ready for something, and I love this city for that.”
The appeal of the city, he says, lies in the abundance of great neighborhoods: Little Italy, Greek Town, Chinatown, just to mention a few. It’s a characteristic that gives visitors to Toronto a chance to sample the world all in one place and it serves as an inspiration of sorts for the creations that come from his kitchen.
Chef Lee first discovered his love of food and flavors at an early age.
“I just loved food when I was a kid,” he said. “I loved tasting things. You know, where I lived [Hong Kong], you opened the window and you could smell street food. And I always thought about eating when I was a kid.”
Tasting things played a big part in motivating him to start cooking. But his first dish might surprise you. Back in Hong Kong, a friend who worked at a Jewish restaurant invited him to help out on day in his kitchen. Chef Lee says his job that day was to prepare potato latkes, and later that night he decided to share his newfound skill with his sister. In doing so, he learned his second lesson on the road to chef superstardom.
“I remember putting on the wok. It [the latkes] started burning because it was such high heat. A wok is NOT for latkes. It has to be a roasting pan,” he said laughing.
Fast forward 35 years or so and Chef Lee’s obsession with taste is not only alive and well, but it’s also sophisticated, creative and wickedly delicious. At Luckee, his menu offers traditional Chinese dishes with an exciting twist and elevates dim sum—what some might consider Chinese fast food—to a whole new level.
Food lovers in Toronto recently had the opportunity to sample the Luckee menu at the restaurant’s official opening night. The vibrant backdrop for the evening was the brainchild of interior design team Bent and Gable. The party started, ironically enough, with a cocktail called The Calm. Rather cheeky when you consider it was made with sake, plum sake, Belvedere vodka and Yuzu. Throughout the night an enthusiastic and dedicated staff paraded an endless stream of tantalizing trays to the over-capacity crowd.
My dim sum favorites were Har Gow (a shrimp dumpling with ginger), Siu Mai (chicken dumplings with shrimp, green onion, ginger and hoisin), Mung Bean Flour Dumplings (with chicken curry and mushrooms), Wok Fried Green Beans and the steamed housemade Spinach Tofu (with green onion, ginger and soya).
Although dim sum makes up a large portion of the menu, this 24-hour restaurant offers much more. You’ll find Cantonese fare, as well as classics from the Shanghai, Hunan, Szechuan, Guangzhou and Beijing regions, as well as other parts of China.
“It has the rhythm of spicy, not so spicy; very clean, very fresh,” he says. “I brought a lot of recipes from Singapore, like the Shanghai Ham, the crispy Cheung Fun dim sum, the Xiao Long Bao, so I’m still inventing some new dishes but in a very traditional manner.”
Chef Lee believes the Luckee menu caters to everyone, given the broad range of cuisines he’s experimented with over the years. The most important thing, he says, is that the food tastes good. Succeed with that and both local and international food lovers will come to Toronto.
Susur Lee’s final thoughts for those considering a trip to Toronto: “Well, in a simple word, it’s where you get the real thing. Really good Greek food, really good Chinese food, really good Italian food, really good French food. Every time my friends come, they say your city has amazing Chinese food. The city never screams really loud about what we have. It’s like a jewel box. You have to find it.”
Rest assured you will most definitely find it at Luckee.