The chef-patron of Rhoda moved to Hong Kong to realise his dream of owning a restaurant. Katherine Alano reports
Hong Kong is an awesome, buzzing city with a crazy food scene. You can have a quality of life here that you just can't get as a chef in London, and on top of that the weather is great and you have the rest of Asia on your doorstep for holidays and long weekends.
You initially moved to Hong Kong to head up the kitchens of Jason Atherton's 22 Ships, but now you have opened up on your own restaurant, Rhoda. Can you tell us more about it?
Rhoda is named after my grandma, and we concentrate on using the best produce from Asia, Australia and New Zealand and on using the entire animal. Our menus change daily, which is not usually seen on the Hong Kong restaurant scene, and the focus is on cooking using proper techniques and stripping back the kitchen of gadgets, such as sous vide machines.
Our wine menu is overseen by my brother, Adam, and it's a little different from most restaurants in the city, with a focus on good value, artisanal wines over the big-name labels. We offer all 60 wines by the glass, half-bottle, carafe and bottle, using Coravin.
How was the transition from head chef to chef-patron?
The pressure is immense and it's so personal, but it's something I've wanted for a very long time. It was a really overwhelming feeling to finally be able to stand in my own place and to cook the food I love to cook with no boundaries.
I feel very blessed to have such a supportive family and a fantastic business partner in Yenn Wong, who supports me and trusts my judgement - she's like a big sister to me. Jason Atherton and Tom Aikens have both been super-supportive too, and they both visit when they are in town at their own restaurants.
Are there any other Brits working at the restaurant?
I'm the only Brit.
What do you like about living and working in Hong Kong?
You can wake up, jump in a cab and in 15 minutes you are at the beach. The F&B sector here pays better and the hours are much more reasonable. My staff work 56 hours a week and I've managed to get my working week down to around 70 hours. Another great thing is that Hong Kong is a popular stop-over city, so I get to meet great people on a daily basis.
And any dislikes?
We have to import most of our produce, and rent and leases are terrible. If you open a successful business your landlord might try to put up your rent fourfold, so operating here can be precarious.
How has working overseas enhanced your career?
It's started to put me on the map and make people take notice of me for my own food and style. We are now focused on getting Rhoda into the Asia 50 Best list for next year, so let's see what happens.
How does the local culture and the ingredients influence you?
It's a constant learning process. I work with my team and my supplier to understand ingredients and try new techniques. It's great to get them involved in the creation of the food.
Are there any challenges working in Hong Kong?
Not really. I find it a lot easier than the UK as there's less red tape.
What advice would you give to a young chef thinking about working abroad?
Just do it! I wish I had done it 10 or 15 years ago. Go, see and learn. There are so many amazing restaurants globally now that it is much easier to do.
You're married and have a young baby. Is Hong Kong now home? Is there anything you will miss about the UK?
We have no plans to move back to the UK, and personally I don't see much future in the F&B market there, especially after Brexit. And the quality of life my wife, Kos, and I can offer our daughter Lily in Hong Kong is much better than we could offer her in London.
However, I do miss how beautiful the UK is. I miss the produce and the seasons - a hot Christmas is weird! Most importantly, I miss my friends and family, although I'm lucky that my brother has also relocated to Hong Kong to start his own wine business.
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work?
My wife is Cantonese/Canadian, so we are looking at putting some roots down in Canada, but that's a fair way off. Hong Kong is the perfect place for us right now.
2016 Chef-patron, Rhoda, Hong Kong
2014-2016 Executive chef, 22 Ships/Ham & Sherr, Hong Kong
2013-2014 Head chef, Story, London