As you wander along the narrow streets looking for the secret kitchen, make sure find the landmarks provided by your guide. Look under a restaurant and you may see an unmarked open door. Our guide, Winnie Lui, ducks in and beckons us to follow. Hidden behind one of central Hong Kong’s many street markets, the private kitchen, offers traditional, home-style Sichuan cooking. We enter the home of Winnie’s aunt and amid clanging knives and familial din, some of the best smells of the province envelope us.

Speakeasies, or secret kitchens, started popping up years ago when local gastronomes and cooks with limited means, decided to set up one or two tables in their sitting rooms and offer a fixed-price, multicourse menu of distinctive dishes. The secret kitchen scene continues to flourish and offers tourists and locals alike with extraordinary dishes and deeply memorable evenings.

Dishes are brought out one at a time and keep coming throughout the evening. Fourteen courses ranging from pink peppercorn marinated abalone, tea-smoked eggs topped with sea urchin, steamed glutinous rice with crab and Shanghai crab roe, jellyfish in a chili sesame sauce, fresh crab ending with bird’s nest with lotus and sweet almond soup and cleansing ginger melon soup.

Amid the high heat cooking, the hard working kitchen hood was humming. The most important role of kitchen ventilation is to remove all the greasy, smoky, steamy gases. Three types of range hoods exist for this underrated task; the island mount range hood; wall mount range hoods and under-cabinet range hoods.

Winnie’s kitchen hood has to function. Here in the states, hoods are more than functional — they can be a kitchen show piece. Some points to consider are:

How is the hood vented? Top and back vents are standard. The ideal location for hood fans is directly ducted to the outside.
** Power.** Units should exhaust at least 300 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm).
Operating Noise. Several manufacturers are now listing the decibels (dBA).
** Width and depth.** For maximum efficiency, the fan should be 3 to 6 inches wider than the cooktop. Standard sizes exist to match the width of the range.
Easy-to-change filters and built in lighting are also features to consider. I always think of ventilation first when designing a kitchen – replacing any re-circulating range hood with a ducted one.

As our speakeasy evening draws to a close, Winnie’s aunt smiles brightly and applauds our visit when we present with her small box of chocolates. We left waving and applauding as well, still feasting on the richness of our evening and since the kitchen hood did its job, we took our memories but we didn’t take the best smells of the province on us.

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