How top international chefs are taking up guest residencies in city's kitchens

Some of the world's hottest chefs are poised to take up guest cooking duties at restaurants in the city, writes Gillian Rhys

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 10:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 10:12am

Hong Kong is home to many renowned names in the food world, but it has become the temporary home of overseas-based chefs as well. Next month world famous Ferran Adrià, Britain's Tom Aikens, Ryan Clift of The Tippling Club, Singapore, and Burkhard Bacher of Michelin-star Kleine Flamme in Italy will all be in town - at Aberdeen Street Social, The Principal, The Landmark Oriental and Café Causette respectively.

Guest chefs have been visiting Hong Kong for decades, originally bringing classical French and subsequently Italian cooking to the city, cuisines not then widely offered by local chefs. But now, just as the world's idea of good cooking has widened beyond classical French, chefs visiting Hong Kong are bringing with them a diversity of cuisines whether it's British, Scandinavian or molecular Spanish.

Adrià will host a meal at Aberdeen Street Social, Jason Atherton's latest Hong Kong restaurant which opened yesterday in Central. The dinner on June 16 is part of a world tour of four cities celebrating the launch of e l Bulli 2005-2011, a compendium of the now-closed restaurant's dishes.

"Ferran approached me, which is very cool," says Atherton, the first British chef to complete a stage at el Bulli. Usually, it's the other way around with the restaurateurs reaching out to chefs. Adria will also be hosting an event at the Briton's Pollen Street Social in London.

Although Adrià will be present he won't be behind the stove. Instead, Atherton has created a menu "inspired by el Bulli" for the occasion. But don't expect any more guest chef appearances at Aberdeen Street Social: "This is a one off for sure," says Atherton.

Conversely, The Principal in Wan Chai plans to host a different guest chef for two dinners every quarter following a successful inaugural collaboration with Jason Atherton. The restaurant has since hosted Tom Seller, who's creating a buzz in London with Story restaurant, and Gunther Hubrechsen of Gunther's in Singapore; Tom Aikens will be in residence at the end of June.

"We do have a wish list," says director of sales and marketing, Tom Watkins.

"The purpose is to introduce and showcase a different taste and technique. Gunther, Jason and Tom all presented us with very different techniques."

Once a guest chef is agreed upon and the menu planned, The Principal's team talks with the visiting chef to prep in advance. "The most important part is the sourcing of ingredients and sometimes even equipment," says Watkins. "Many chefs of this calibre work with unique and sometimes hard to find ingredients."

"The feedback has been overwhelming," says Watkins. "Guests tell us it's refreshing to be able to go back to a restaurant where you can explore beyond the usual menu."

The guest chef programme has also brought new customers to The Principal. "New customers who have been introduced to The Principal through the programme tend to come back to try executive chef Jonay's cooking."

For Burkhard Bacher, his June 3 to June 9 stint will be his second as Café Causette's chef in residence. "Last year diners came in many times to try most of his dishes," says Nicolas Dubort, F&B director at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, where other guest chefs have included Thomas Keller and Alain Passard. Bacher's menu will also be available alongside the regular offering until the end of June.

"Bacher's visit gives our customers the opportunity to enjoy a taste of northern Italy," says Dubort. "These star chefs allow us to bring an injection of additional excitement into our restaurant."

Earlier this year Japanese celebrity chef Yuji Wakiya made a return appearance at the InterContinental Hong Kong's Yan Toh Heen.

The collaboration came about through Nobu Matsuhisa, who has his name above the door on another restaurant at the hotel.

"Nobu is a big fan of Yan Toh Heen," says InterContinental Hong Kong executive chef Nicola Canuti. "He suggested we contact Wakiya who is considered 'the iron chef of Chinese cuisine' in Japan and is a good friend of Nobu, for a joint promotion a few years ago."

Nobu has set up other collaborations at the hotel, including bringing in two Peruvian chefs to showcase ingredients from Peru, where he lived for several years.

"Following Yan Toh Heen's recent renovation we thought it would be great to invite chef Wakiya back," says Canuti. The Hong Kong visit will be reciprocated with Yan Toh Heen's chef Lau Yiu-fai travelling to Japan in the autumn to cook at one of Wakiya's restaurants.

The Landmark Oriental's pop-up restaurant concept is going from strength to strength. Recent guests include David Thompson from Nahm and Bjorn Frantzen from Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm.

"The initiative is designed to bring in exceptional chefs and their restaurant concepts to food lovers in Hong Kong who might not have the time to travel to their restaurants," says Richard Ekkebus, culinary director of The Landmark Oriental.

Having been held twice a year since 2012, the number of pop-ups is being increased to four a year. The Tippling Club from Singapore will offer its famed progressive cuisine and cocktail pairings on June 10, 11 and 13, followed by a pop-up by an Asian restaurant, yet to be announced, in September.

"The demand is there for more but the organisation is massive, so, at the moment, that's the maximum I could manage," says Ekkebus.

"The first one sold out in six hours, people loved it. Most of the diners are repeat customers. Each time they ask me to call them when the next one is set up."

The restaurants invited are usually friends and contacts of Ekkebus, and many have featured on the World's 50 Best Restaurant list.

As well as increasing in number, the pop-ups have also been moved from Amber to the hotel's function rooms. This is partly because Amber is booked up four weeks in advance but also because Ekkebus felt the atmosphere was not always conducive for the visiting restaurant. "The function rooms offer a neutral territory, which can be whatever you want it to be: Russian, Thai, Nordic. That makes it exciting and it's fun to offer other options to diners," he says.