31 May 2023

Let the food talk - Chinese chef’s passion transforms Pearl into a gem at Wagga RSL Club

| Laura Liu
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Alan Cheng

Alan Cheng has devoted decades to his passion for cooking. Photo: Adam Drummond.

In 1976, Alan Cheng embarked on a journey from China to Australia, armed with limited English skills and only his brother’s family in Temora for support.

Fast forward almost 50 years, and the 70-year-old’s life has transformed in remarkable ways. Not only has he found love in Ivy, with whom he has raised two children, but he has also become the proud owner of a cherished Chinese restaurant, Pearl, nestled within the Wagga RSL Club.

“We were the only Chinese family in town when I first arrived in Temora to assist my brother as a chef,” Alan recalled.

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While a colossal challenge, overcoming the language barrier served as Alan’s initial milestone in establishing roots and flourishing in this new land. Understanding the significance of language, he commenced learning English.

“It was all self-taught. I bought books and dedicated every evening after work to studying English,” he said.

“I fearlessly interacted with locals, and received gracious support and encouragement to converse with them.

“Although my proficiency is not yet perfect, it’s not a problem in my current work and daily life.”

In search of better educational prospects for their children, Alan’s family relocated to Sydney and operated another restaurant for more than a decade, allowing Alan to hone his culinary skills. During this time, his brother’s unwavering support and the vibrant ambience of the city fueled Alan’s passion for the culinary arts.

However, it was the allure of Wagga Wagga and the opportunity to leave a lasting impression that ultimately drew Alan back to the Wagga RSL Club. Alongside Ivy, he devoted 15 years of passion and hard work to transforming Pearl into a true culinary gem.

“He is hands-on with everything in the restaurant, working hard to make sure everything is top-notch,” Ivy said.

Alan takes immense pride in the fact that his culinary creations at Pearl are loved by the community. Among the array of dishes served at the restaurant, a few have risen to become particular favourites among the patrons.

One such beloved dish is the honey chicken, which combines succulent chicken with a delectable sweet and tangy honey glaze. The flavour and crispy texture have won over the taste buds of many customers who frequent Pearl.

“I hardly get a chance to chat with customers out front as the kitchen is always buzzing,” Alan said.

“But sometimes customers even come to the kitchen to thank me for the delicious food.”

The warm and friendly nature of the community played a significant role in Alan and Ivy’s decision to make it their home. Alan said their path to success was also shaped by the understanding and support they received from the managers of the Wagga RSL Club.

“They truly understand the challenges posed by language barriers,” he said.

“From club experiences, restaurant advertisement to dining booking support, they are always willing to assist us in any way they can.

“We have been fortunate to have the club’s support, which has made our business smooth.”

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When the pandemic struck, their partnership with the club proved to be a lifeline.

The club’s general manager Andrew Bell suggested they attempt takeaway meals when the club was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Alan was given a key to the venue, allowing him to operate the restaurant for takeaway orders.

“We initially tried it for three nights – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – and received some positive response,” Alan said.

“So, we added another night – more fantastic feedback.

“We then kept expanding until we were doing takeaway five nights a week. This helped us survive from the challenging times.”

As restrictions lifted and dining services resumed, Pearl Chinese Restaurant experienced a seamless transition as customers eagerly embraced both takeaway and dine-in options.

“We are very thankful – without the community and their help, we couldn’t have achieved what we have today,” Alan said.

Pearl Chinese Restaurant is located in the Wagga RSL Club on the corner of Kincaid and Dobbs Streets. Pearl is open for dining daily and serves lunch from noon and dinner from 6 pm.


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