Somehow, things always seem to fall into place for Ken Yau. The chef/owner of k.Market, a purveyor of freshly frozen dumplings and sundry Asian-inspired items, has a knack for creating opportunities to pursue his culinary interests.
“I’ve had the most magical journey,” says Yau. “It must be luck – or someone is looking out for me.”
The Yau you meet today is a culmination of career moves that have taken him from Canada and Hong Kong to the U.K. and Australia; from working at Michelin Star and fine-dining restaurants to building a rapidly growing commercial business serving retailers and customers.
Yau’s pursuit of cuisine started during his veterinary studies in Guelph. “I didn’t want to do it anymore and for some reason, wanted to cook.”
The connection between science and cooking makes sense, he says. “The discipline of following procedures and ingredients is important. I always had to understand why I was doing something and asked a lot of questions.”
With no formal culinary experience, he started knocking on the doors of local restaurants. “David Lee and Jeff O’Connor at Nota Bene were kind enough to take me in,” he says. He used the same direct approach when travelling to Hong Kong and ended up working with The Fat Duck for two years there, then in the U.K. and Australia before returning to Canada in 2017.
“By then I was done with working in fine dining and was between jobs,” says Yau. Instead, he hosted once-a-week popup k.Dinner in Toronto at Fiorentina on the Danforth up until the 2020 lockdown.
Undaunted, he transitioned his skills to starting k.Market. “For me, it was a desperate choice become irrelevant, or do something that would keep people well, make them laugh and bring comfort.”
Demand blew up, thanks to social media and word of mouth. “It’s been a wild journey. I’m blown away by the amount of support I had,” adding there has been enough demand to hire four additional employees.
He prides himself on developing “not-so-common flavours” that reflect different cultures, while at the same time presenting a concept that is simple, fun and modern.
Today, k.Market products are sold through small shops in Toronto, St. Catharines and Whitby, Ont., where he continues to personally deliver inventory. “It’s important to me to show customers there is still a person behind the product and connecting with people. That’s how I got my name out in the first place.”
Yau says his relationship with food has shifted since he recently had surgery to relieve years of chronic back pain. “To me it’s more about the people you spend time with. Now I only work three to four days a week, and I can step back and enjoy what I created. I have this incredible freedom.”
His newest passion is ceramics. “I’m making plates for my dinners now. I’m excited to see where that takes me. I spent my recovery time on recipes and new ideas. Some are inspired by the plates and bowls I make.
I always want to be part of the industry, but I also need to be protective about my body and my time.”
BY DENISE DEVEAU