HomeTravelSecrets from the man behind Hong Kong's most popular restaurants

Secrets from the man behind Hong Kong’s most popular restaurants

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(CNN) — Hong Kong is broadly thought-about one of the vital difficult cities on this planet to function a restaurant — a roiling cauldron of fixing tastes, cleaver-sharp competitors and unsavory economics.

Proper on the coronary heart of its culinary world, with connections to at the least half of its hottest tables, is publicist Geoffrey Wu.

Wu and his 10-year-old consultancy agency The Forks and Spoons work with among the most adorned eating places and bars on the town, such because the two-Michelin starred TATE Eating Room and Ando, one of the vital sought-after reservations on the town.

An atypical publicist

Geoffrey Wu is the publicist behind many of Hong Kong's toughest tables.

Geoffrey Wu is the publicist behind a lot of Hong Kong’s hardest tables.

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

“I would not say we’re higher at our job than different folks. I might say we’re completely different,” he tells CNN Journey in The Baker and The Bottleman, a brand new informal bakery and pure wine bar by superstar British chef Simon Rogan, the place he is agreed to spill among the secrets and techniques of Hong Kong’s eating scene.

After being expelled from the College of Science and Know-how in Hong Kong for “skipping too many lessons to play playing cards at McDonald’s,” Wu joined Amber, the famed French restaurant below the helm of Richard Ekkebus, as operations employees in 2005.

Over the subsequent few years he took on numerous advertising and marketing roles for various corporations — however all the time discovered himself again within the meals and beverage trade. In 2012, he opened his F&B consultancy agency.

Wu is not your typical meals and beverage publicist. He is not congenial. He is recognized for often yelling at purchasers for making a mistake, or members of the media he feels have not finished their analysis.

“I’m not afraid to talk up — folks know that for positive. Generally you want a marketing consultant who is easy about issues that have to be mounted. We aren’t right here to therapeutic massage your ego. We’re right here for the outcomes. We’re right here to win,” says Wu, sounding extra like a soccer coach than a PR skilled.

“If I needed to please everybody, I might go promote ice cream. Fortunately, most of my purchasers perceive.”

Amongst these purchasers is Yenn Wong, founder and chief govt officer of JIA, a restaurant group behind in style award-winning Hong Kong eateries like Mono and Duddell’s.

“The Forks and Spoons perceive and personalize the wants of every idea and is all the time staying very present with the related methods to make sure we as purchasers get probably the most publicity to our target market, which in the end delivers constructive income progress,” Wong tells CNN Journey.

‘Probably the most cutthroat F&B market on this planet’

Dinner tables at Bluhouse, a new Italian restaurant at Rosewood Hotel, are often booked out two months in advance.

Dinner tables at Bluhouse, a brand new Italian restaurant at Rosewood Lodge, are sometimes booked out two months prematurely.

Courtesy Bluhouse

One of many vital duties for a F&B publicist is to be bodily current at a restaurant, in keeping with Wu. He’s both tinkering with menus, sampling new dishes or just assembly with purchasers.

It may very well be something from translating the restaurant’s a la carte menu from Chinese language into English to working with cooks on selecting dishes for a tasting menu, “so you may see what’s occurring and let the employees know that you just care,” says Wu.

For example, later that day, he says he is having a trial lunch at Bluhouse, a brand new informal Italian eating idea on the Rosewood Lodge in Kowloon.

“At a tasting, we’ll take a look at all the things — style, presentation and temperature of the meals. We additionally take a look at furnishings, operation movement, pricing, and so forth.,” he says. “No new restaurant is ever good, however let’s attempt to decrease the error.

“We have now solely labored with purchasers in Asia — Hong Kong, Macao, Maldives, and so forth — however I actually consider that Hong Kong is probably the most cutthroat meals and beverage market on this planet.”

His declare is not baseless.

Getting the opening proper is important in Hong Kong on account of its competitiveness.

The town is steadily named because the world’s costliest rental location. And Hong Kong residents are a few of — if not the — largest spenders on eating out, particularly pre-Covid. Food imports are extremely expensive.

“It is such a condensed market,” says Wu.

“Folks all the time speak. Hong Kong prospects are additionally very educated. If you aren’t getting it proper from the get-go, it’s important to revamp many issues. The query is — will the shoppers offer you a second likelihood? There are such a lot of decisions that likelihood is they’d go elsewhere.

“So to construct a profitable restaurant, it is vital to ensure the opening is a powerful one. With good phrase of mouth then companies will come. It is that straightforward.”

Living proof: Bluhouse. It opened in June and dinner reservations are full by way of October and November on the time of the writing.

Cooks have an even bigger position than ever

Hong Kong’s F&B trade has advanced quickly within the final decade, thanks partly to the arrival of Michelin Information in 2009 in addition to the rise of social media and the native meals neighborhood.

Cooks in Hong Kong have skilled a shift of their roles.

“Some 20 years in the past, cooks largely simply cooked and served meals,” says Wu.

“Now in 2022, there’s additionally this factor referred to as relationship constructing. Cooks have to indicate their faces. They’ve to the touch the tables and to take footage with company. The job of a chef is far greater than earlier than. All of it goes again to a necessity for human connection. Prospects, media, influencers, bloggers — everybody desires to have a human connection.”

And it simply makes good enterprise sense — company usually tend to return to a restaurant the place they’ve established a relationship with the chef.

The issue, after all, is that chatting with diners does not come naturally to all cooks. That is the place Wu is available in.

“We simply encourage and encourage and encourage them,” he says.

He cites Manav Tuli of contemporary Indian restaurant Chaat — which can be positioned on the Rosewood — as successful story. Chaat opened in 2020 and received its first Michelin star two years later.

Chef Manav Tuli of Rosewood Hong Kong restaurant Chaat.

Chef Manav Tuli of Rosewood Hong Kong restaurant Chaat.

Nora Tam/SCMP/ZUMA Press

Distinctive dishes like Tuli’s showstopping tandoori lobster — Indian meals with a Hong Kong seafood twist — and a group of educated employees which communicates the tales of the meals fantastically are among the causes Chaat is one in every of Hong Kong’s hardest to e-book eating places.

Tables are launched two months prematurely and swept up in minutes.

However the largest star of Chaat is Tuli, thought-about one of many metropolis’s most beloved culinary figures proper now.

“When he arrived two years in the past, he did not know the panorama or tradition of Hong Kong,” mentioned Wu. “He’s a quiet individual however we align in a sure manner as we each have a drive. For him, transferring his household to Hong Kong with him, he desires to make this successful. So we’ve got been working very carefully since day one on that,” mentioned Wu.

He inspired Tuli to satisfy the company and fellow cooks, becoming a member of him at occasions and meals because the chef constructed a reputation for himself.

Chilly-calling is not constructing a relationship

Wu recently organized a collaboration dinner between Chaat  and Forum, a Michelin three-star Cantonese restaurant.

Wu not too long ago organized a collaboration dinner between Chaat and Discussion board, a Michelin three-star Cantonese restaurant.

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

On his days off, Wu organizes lunches for media, together with revered trade critics, and cooks he works with or may go with sooner or later.

These usually happen at venues Wu does not work for, from Hop Sze, a no-frills Cantonese diner that has a six-month wait listing, to the Discussion board Restaurant, a Chinese language joint with three Michelin stars.

“I labored til 4 a.m [this morning]. I solely joined as a result of Geoffrey Wu organized this lunch,” one meals critic tells CNN Journey as he enters the personal eating room inside Discussion board.

The menu of the day consists of every kind of dishes — from avenue food-style rice rolls to traditional Cantonese candy and bitter pork and the restaurant’s well-known braised abalone.

As with most lunches with Wu, there’s additionally an off-menu shock.

Adam Wong, the chief chef, and CK Poon, the overall supervisor, are available with a pushcart close to the top of the meal.

“We’re pondering of including this to the subsequent menu replace,” says Poon as he caramelizes sugar for the candied apple fritter (ba si apple), a Northern Chinese language-style dessert, on-site.”It is the primary time we’re doing this — so tell us what you suppose.”

The five-hour lunch wraps up with trade gossip over bottles of cognac.

However Wu is rarely not working.

He punctuates gatherings with potential collaboration concepts (Tuli and Wong exchanged concepts that day on a hookup between the 2 eating places), and fills in moments of silence with jokes to maintain the meal entertaining.

“I all the time say that I am the chief leisure officer,” says Wu. “Constructing relationships takes time. Chilly-calling and sending press releases aren’t constructing a relationship.”

Taste is king, however there it isn’t all the things

Wu recently worked with Yong Fu, an award-winning high-end Ningbo restaurant, to help refine its menu for local tastes.

Wu not too long ago labored with Yong Fu, an award-winning high-end Ningbo restaurant, to assist refine its menu for native tastes.

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

On the finish of the day, connections will not get you far if the meals is not good or the restaurant refuses to evolve.

“Taste does not lie,” says Wu. “However all the things — eating places, bars, cooks — has a shelf life. It is unattainable to remain primary without end. It is advisable to maintain arising with new concepts to proceed to raise the restaurant.”

It may very well be doing extra tableside providers, educating company concerning the dishes, or just including a pre-dessert chunk that cleanses the palate, he says.

One in every of Wu’s newest duties is to edit the menu at one in every of his new purchasers, Yong Fu, a Michelin-starred restaurant that focuses on high-end delicacies from China’s east coast Ningbo area.

He’d prefer to trim down the unique one-inch-thick e-book and has created a tasting menu to supply a extra curated ordering expertise.

In Hong Kong, Ningbo cuisine is often confused with Shanghai cuisine. Hence, Wu has worked with Yong Fu to create a tasting menu for the local diners.

In Hong Kong, Ningbo delicacies is usually confused with Shanghai delicacies. Therefore, Wu has labored with Yong Fu to create a tasting menu for the native diners.

Yong Fu

In Hong Kong, Ningbo delicacies is usually confused with Shanghai delicacies. The tasting menu consists of dishes that diners might not know sufficient about to order — a “sticky” boiled wax gourd and yellow croaker fish in bitter broth, for instance — that amplify the trinity of Ningbo delicacies’s star flavors: “savory, umami and sticky.”

Yu Qiong, Yong Fu’s supervisor, is there to supply an in-depth rationalization on every of the dishes.

“These are among the issues that can enrich the entire eating expertise,” says Wu. He compares advertising and marketing eating places with working: “Maintain refining. Maintain pushing. My perception is, simply do not cease till you’re on the ending line.”

It is an apt metaphor. The avid runner wakes up at 5:45 a.m. on most days to slot in train.

“I take pleasure in Hong Kong on quiet mornings when the town hasn’t woken up but. Once you run, you see a number of issues and take into consideration a number of issues,” says Wu.

As for what was on his thoughts that specific morning?

“I used to be fascinated about our interview. I used to be fascinated about not swearing. I did properly — I solely swore as soon as.”

Prime picture: Indian restaurant Chaat’s pork cheek vindaloo. Courtesy of Chaat.

Supply: www.cnn.com

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