Who knew? C.Y.'s taste for humble over haute

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


You are what you eat.

This we all know. But can you judge a politician by what he or she eats? Maybe not, but it does give you some insight into their personality, or at least the one they want to project.

Few knew - or cared - what Leung Chun-ying liked to eat, until he became the chief executive-elect. He soon found himself being chased day and night by the paparazzi. And after two months of such scrutiny we find C.Y. appears to be a fan of Hong Kong street food - fish balls and noodles, beef brisket noodles, dumplings and Chinese puddings, to mention a few. And he seems to enjoy neighbourhood cha chaan tengs (tea houses).

He does enjoy restaurants. He was spotted recently by reporters with his wife, former solicitor Regina Tong Ching-yee. They were not at any five-star hotel or private club but at a moderately priced Beijing restaurant in Wan Chai. That's little wonder. C.Y.'s parents are from the northern province of Shangdong , and Beijing food must bring back familiar tastes.

Then came an even rarer scene a few days ago. Visiting a Yuen Long organic farm, C.Y. was seen grabbing a corncob from the field, chewing on it as if it were the most delicious food in the world. Long ago, C.Y. turned the land around his big house on The Peak into a large garden planted with various plants and vegetables. For years he has received friends and guests, including those from the media, in his garden. This is not a chief executive with expensive hobbies like yachting or wine collecting.

Now that C.Y. has won the top job and is busy generating public support for his government revamp plan, he admitted he has little time for gardening. But he continues his more humble but unusual choice of food.

A group of columnists and academics invited by C.Y. for a lunch last week found that the food was delivered by a well-known social enterprise set up to hire the retired and elderly - Goldenlicious Catering of Gingko House.

No wonder some government officials are now half-joking that the next time they invite guests for lunch or dinner they'll pick a local eatery or a social enterprise restaurant. No more clubs or expensive fine dining.

Some of the best restaurants in town, like Yung Kee in Central, clubs with tight privacy policies like the Jockey Club and the Hong Kong Club and five-star hotel restaurants have senior officials as their regular guests and are thus dubbed 'canteens for senior officials'. That certainly is not C.Y.'s cup of tea.

Our next leader - by his choice of food and by going business class rather than first class for his trip to Beijing to get his official appointment from Premier Wen Jiabao - is building up his grass-roots image of being accessible to the people. However, that is only the first step in his long journey to becoming a successful leader.

As the next chief executive of Hong Kong, first and foremost C.Y. must prove himself to be capable and determined: capable enough to handle any crisis and able to improve the livelihood of the people; and determined enough to set the correct priorities for the city's development, economically and politically.

You are what you eat. But as a leader, you are what you do, and you will only be judged by what you do. How to successfully handle the current debate on his restructuring of government is his first challenge, with more to follow in the next five years.