Ask the Foodie: Roger Chan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 9:01am

Roger Chan, 34, co-founded Hong Kong's first artisanal chocolate company Vero in 2004. Its high-end treats are still available at a boutique in Landmark in Central, while the chocolate workshop that opened four years ago at Fenwick Pier closed this summer. A new flagship store is opening next year.

Vero is one of Hong Kong's first artisanal producers. How has the scene grown?

I'm happy to see home-grown producers and smaller companies. Hong Kong, fortunately, is a place where people are innovative, if there is an opportunity they will try and take it, but we have a long way to go. I mean, if you go around the markets in London or Sydney, they are alive with different options.

How hard is it being a small company in the food industry in Hong Kong? There is a commercial element to everything here. Rents are so high that it dictates what the entrepreneur or the company can do. That's why, across the board, food and beverage is run by big groups now. They don't have that same entrepreneurialism, that sole proprietor feeling.

You've just closed the premises here on Fenwick. Were there tears? Not at all. We have such a beautiful successor. I find Fenwick Pier a unique location. It's like a diamond in the rough. Luckily, it passed to the right hands, someone with integrity who's following their passion.

So you know the owner, chef Gianni Caprioli?

I have another company called Metadesign and I sell coffee, among other things. I've known Gianni as a customer for years.

So there's more to you than Vero?

Vero is my baby, but I would say I'm about food and beverage. My other company imports coffee, beer, chocolate and water. There are some new concepts coming up. I'm lucky because my customers are in the industry, and so I meet all these mixologists, chefs and restaurant managers. Knowing Hong Kong and growing up here, I see what the opportunities are and the direction of the industry.

Which is?

We've just been through this whole luxury era, which I feel, and I may be wrong, is coming to an end. I feel people are going more back to basics. We don't need to be more beautiful or delicate or refined. I think the future is about making a piece of chocolate cake that looks delicious and people want to eat.

So is Vero gone but not forgotten?

It's still in Landmark. We had a recent pop-up store in Times Square, and there are a few others coming up. We'll be opening a flagship store next year. We want that to be a fully integrated chocolate and coffee shop. It's a fun challenge.

Your mum is British, your dad is Chinese. What food did you eat growing up?

My mum would offer us a wide range of strong tastes, whether that was a piece of Stilton or anchovies. Interesting tastes from all over.

Is it true that many Chinese people think chocolate is too sweet?

With my Chinese family, if we go to an Italian restaurant or any other European restaurant, it's all tai tim or "too sweet". We adjusted some of our recipes because of that.

Do you cook?

I delegate. I'm lucky because we have lots of friends who cook, lots of chefs who are friends, so we have an open-house policy. Our house is always full of friends cooking.

What's your favourite food?

I seek local foods wherever I am. In Singapore I'll try local delicacies. I love sashimi, you can't beat eating fresh local sashimi in Japan. Because I spend so much time travelling and entertaining, I love coming home to something simple. Steamed dark green leaves with maybe a dash of olive oil, or something like that.

How often do you eat chocolate?

I eat it every day, usually with an espresso. I feel naked without a piece of chocolate.

There is an age-old question about chocolate. Is it better than sex?

You should ask my wife, although I'm sure she'd opt for chocolate.

What's the best thing about working in the food business?

It is a passionate industry - you do it because you love it. You have to love it or otherwise you'd be a banker or something. I love food, I love wine, I love experiences, and I appreciate people with artistic talent. It's definitely the right industry for me.