Located high atop Chinatown with an exceptionally stunning panoramic view is Empress by Boon, a paradise of elevated Chinese cuisine and elegant cocktails all tucked away within its lavish interior on 838 Grant Avenue.
Opened in the summer of 2021, Empress has become an instant hit for all those wanting a dining experience that is both sleek and modern while still honoring heritage and retaining its traditional roots, as evident with its restored nail-free pergula poshly nestled near the entrance.
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All of this magic is led by Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon, whose impeccable talent shines through the kitchen and throughout his handcrafted dishes. We had the fortunate ability to chat with Chef Boon as he toured us around the grand venue on about his culinary upbringing, his inspiration for his highly-successful destination, what his motivational advice is for other up-and-coming chefs, and much more.
Hello Chef! We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to talk. I would definitely love to start with knowing how long you have been cooking, and at how many places you have worked at before?
I have been working for over 36 years at many of the world’s most renowned Asian restaurants, including Hakkasan and Yauatcha restaurants worldwide, Turandot in Moscow, and Breeze in Bangkok.
Over the course of nine years, I served as the Chinese chef for multiple restaurants around the world including Temasek Club in Singapore, Lei Garden Singapore, Ritz Carlton Singapore, East Ocean Restaurant in Hong Kong, and Sofitel Hotel in Malaysia.
That is amazing. And so what initially inspired you to start cooking?
Traveling the world and tasting my way as I learned more about different cultures. I knew I wanted to share my story using flavors from the places I have been that helped me become the person I am today.
What are also some of your favorite parts about working at Empress and being in our city of San Francisco?
I have always had a dream to open a restaurant in Chinatown. I care deeply about this community and hope the restaurant helps to bring back tourism and a bit of new excitement and possibilities following the pandemic.
You are definitely a great addition to Chinatown. How do you feel Empress contributes to the neighborhood?
We believe the restaurant will be a big part of the revitalization of Chinatown and we look forward to bringing that to fruition.
I also have to know- do you have any favorite dishes to cook?
I enjoy cooking and trying out new dishes all the time, so my menu will be everchanging. I want to evolve the dishes with new presentations and ingredients that match my culinary perspective.
Using Cantonese culinary techniques, my team and I preserve the natural flavors of food to create something distinctive and special for guests.
Lastly, do you have any advice towards other aspiring chefs who want to be like you?
First of all, I don't think I am successful. I am always seeking opportunities to learn and to do things better. I think it is important to keep challenging yourself to try new things and make improvements every day so tomorrow is even better than the last. I also hope to continue to make contributions to the society.
Incredible. Thank you again Chef!
Definitely when you visit, be sure to take in all the sights, flavor complexities of their seasonally rotating menu's dishes and cocktails, and give Chef Boon a hearty hello if you spot him. You can view Empress's current menu, along with more information, all on their website.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash