'I went through the school of hard mentoring'
NAME: Harlan Goldstein, 45.
JOB: Chef-owner of restaurants Harlan's and Tuscany by H, with H ONE in IFC2 and club Private H in Lan Kwai Fong opening soon.
What did you study in secondary school?
I didn't major in anything. As a young kid we lived on Manhattan's lower east side and I was into riding my motorbike without a licence and being chased by police. My mother, a single parent, decided I was out of control.
What did she do?
We moved to Florida when I was 14 so I could attend this strict US$1,000-a-month private school. But I hated it and persuaded her to send me to public school.
How did she keep tabs on you?
I worked after school in the kitchen of my uncle's restaurant. I really liked it, it tamed me because I had to obey people.
Was this a turning point?
It saved me. I could have become involved with the kids who went down the road of failure, drugs and jail.
So the tearaway was tamed?
Not overnight. At 16 I had a 14-foot dinghy and I used to wheel it behind a bicycle, illegally. Then I'd fish in the ocean. I could easily have been sunk. Finally my mother said: 'No way you caught this in a lake, it's a big sea fish.'
Was there a defining moment?
My ambition to be a chef came from seeing how artistic and creative cooking could be.
How about further education?
I wanted to go to the Culinary Institute of America, but it cost US$25,000. Instead, at 17 my uncle sent me to Switzerland to a big restaurant. It was as tough as the Swiss army. We worked 7.30am to 11pm with a two-hour break, but we had a blast.
Did not attending college matter?
I actually benefited, because I went through the school of hard mentoring and on-the-job training instead. School is a good foundation, but you don't learn the same things as doing something.
Any other benefits?
Knowing the right people, I got the opportunities, a Montreux Palace Hotel apprenticeship, stints in Lyons and Milan, all by 22.
What was your first big break?
At 22 I was running a gourmet restaurant at the Hilton New Orleans.
Which job was most daunting?
Managing 21 outlets and 290 staff as executive chef at the Shangri-La's China World Hotel in Beijing. I was 28.
How did you become Harlan G, Hong Kong's celebrity chef?
Nine years at Aberdeen Marina Club built my reputation and personal brand - at the time the club restaurant was named Harlan's after me. I signed for my own place, Harlan's in IFC, during Sars.
What do you like best about your job?
My staff. I take care of them and they take care of my customers.
What skills are needed for a chef-entrepreneur?
Most chefs can't run a business and cook. I don't have an MBA, but I'm street smart and employ good people so I can concentrate on the restaurants.
Any recommended training?
The vocational courses at Pokfulam Training Centre Complex are excellent. Internationally there's the Culinary Institute of America and many good schools in Switzerland and Australia.
Are you hiring?
Yes, and I take summer students.