A bon vivant who took matters into his own hands

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am

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Vague and badly written restaurant reviews in online dining forums prompted Jason Tse to start his own food blog in 2009.

JasonBonVivant.com chronicles the latest goings-on on the dining scene, with informative and elaborate reviews written by the passionate foodie. Clicks mounted up, and his remarks have brought him a following in the dining community. Tse has been covered by the press and has written many dining articles for local media and taken more than 10,000 food photos for his posts.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, the 33-year-old moved here in 2004 to pursue a master's degree in China development studies at the University of Hong Kong (one of three degrees under his belt). Tse claims food blogging has deepened his interest in the online world, which explains his latest project, online fashion store www.myfashionbirdcage.com, which will launch soon.

Any dining trends at the moment you're sick of? The froyo (frozen yogurt) craze seems to be fading out. Ramen on the other hand ...

The froyo trend is gone. The hot dog trend is gone, but the ramen trend is still going. Now it's all about tacos. I have more of an opinion about private kitchens. They have existed for a while, but I've noticed more are cropping up. I understand the need for private kitchens. The initial idea was: rents here are too high for some chefs or restaurant owners, so this is an alternative that delivers a cosy home experience with homely food.

Now you think it's overdone?

It's not just overdone. A lot of private kitchens are operated in commercial buildings that are supposedly cheaper than, say, a ground-floor establishment. So why is the food from these so-called private kitchens getting more expensive than that in normal establishments? It doesn't make sense.

Do you always do your reviews anonymously?

Most of the time. The exceptions are when I'm invited to certain events such as openings, but I disclose this [in the blog write-up]. Disclosure is important.

A lot of food critics are up in arms about the Michelin guide here being unreliable or not on par with standards for Michelin guides around the world. What's your take on this?

A lot of foodies and critics disagree or have strong opinions about the Michelin results for Hong Kong and Macau, mainly because the guide includes a lot of cheap places. The difference is that the editions in Europe and in the US, for example, don't include cheap, local places. So why in Hong Kong do they award a cheung fun (steamed rice rolls) place or a wonton shop one star, when they never rate New York tacos off the street or a creperie in France?

Also, a lot of the chefs think: 'I'm a one-star chef in Paris or New York, but how come I'm being compared to a one-star chef in Hong Kong who makes cheung fun or wonton?' Michelin guides around the world, especially in Europe, have a higher grading system - more of a fine-dining standard - than they do here. I think [Michelin] wanted to make the guide here more mainstream, [broadening] the list to include more local restaurants than just fine-dining restaurants.

When was the last time you gave a zero-star review?

I don't have a star system because I think the dining experience and people's tastes are personal things. You might not agree with what I like because our tastes are different.

For a lot of publications, the tradition is to use ratings. For me, it's about the experience and sharing this with people. I don't give marks. I list my likes and dislikes and explain why. Often, the most negative comments are about bad service.

Why is Hong Kong notorious for bad service?

Unfortunately, this is the case. In my opinion, it's the lack of passion. If you ask anyone in the food and beverage industry, a lot of restaurants say they struggle to hire staff, especially frontline staff. With that taken into consideration, they basically have to hire whoever they can get. A lot of people in the industry are there for a short stint. Most of them are there because they need the money. I'm not saying it's all like that, but there is definitely a demographic who have no passion, who don't care about the guests. Even with training, it doesn't really help if they don't have the passion.

Then again, it could be that establishments aren't paying them enough. Either way, it's hard to find people who do it for a long time. The industry needs to address this.