Stefan Wong, Once a Male Pageant Star, Moves from Playboy Roles to French Cooking
After participating in the first-ever Mr. Hong Kong in 2005, he's now a restaurateur.
I was born in Hong Kong. My whole family moved to France when I was 4 years old. I don’t have many memories of my life in Hong Kong before the move. It was the kind of journey where you didn’t know when you’d be back. It was hard to adapt. Unlike Canada or Australia, France is less accepting of Chinese immigrants, and there were even fewer Hongkongers. We spoke a mix of Cantonese and Putonghua at home. That’s why I’m still working on my Cantonese.
My mom wanted me to learn some Chinese when I was around 11, but I didn’t want to. I thought, “What for? We moved all the way here, we’re not moving back to Hong Kong.” I skipped most of my Chinese classes. Of course, now I regret it.
I think my French upbringing made me a more gentle, romantic person. I had many jobs when I was in France—waiter, auto shop worker, house painter, carpenter… I even worked on a farm. That’s the French spirit. They love freedom and trying new things.
I’ve always wondered: If I grew up in Hong Kong, would my life have been the same? Would I still be in showbiz? I would probably be very goal-oriented and proactive, maybe work in finance or something like that. When I grew up, I really wanted to come back to Hong Kong, because there’s still racial discrimination in France and the crime rate was high. I was young back then and Hong Kong was a place full of chances and opportunities, as long as you were hard working. I loved it when I got back. People were nice and the city’s fast and vibrant. The pace was so slow in France. You had to wait even for “fast” food.
I never really tried to get into showbiz. It was all a coincidence. My colleagues said I had good looks and I should join the Mr. Hong Kong pageant [in 2005]. It was the first male pageant on TVB. Pageants in France are different. Taking part doesn’t mean you’ll become a TV or movie star. I joined just for fun. I was one of the finalists, but I didn’t win. But then TVB said they wanted to sign me as an artist. I was so surprised—I used to watch their shows on tape in France, and now I got to act in them.
“The pace was so slow in France. You had to wait even for ‘fast’ food.”
At first I was typecast as the playboy who came back from overseas, but now it’s better. I had a lot of opportunities when I first joined showbiz, but they came all at once—too quickly. In 2006 [a year after Mr. Hong Kong], I was already being cast as secondary protagonist characters—my Cantonese wasn’t even that fluent at that time. I wasn’t prepared but I rose to stardom too quickly. The route was too smooth.
I really wanted to come back to Hong Kong, but my younger brother [François Wong, former actor and Mr. Hong Kong pageant winner] didn’t—he was born in France and he felt like his roots were there. He was a very shy person and I thought Mr. Hong Kong could be useful for him—he could meet more people and learn to be more presentable. I didn’t expect him to win. But because we’re brothers, it created a lot of noise in the media and I gave him tips based on my experience: He ended up winning.
The low point of my career was also related to gossip about my younger brother [François was involved in an adultery scandal in 2009]. He was too young and innocent back then, and got fame too early. He just met the wrong person. When the news broke, I suffered a lot too because people thought I was him— even though I’m 7 years older than him. You just have to do your best, and people will know you are not that kind of person. But people also forget rather quickly and now he’s left showbiz, things have gotten better.
I’ve always liked cooking. When I was young, my parents were busy at work which left me to take care of my younger siblings—including cooking for them. I also used to ask my mom to get all these traditional French recipes, and I’d translate them for her. I came back to Hong Kong because this is a place that treasures hard workers. During the low point of my career, I didn’t want to just sit there and wait for jobs from TVB and I still needed to make a living, so I started my own business. I realized there weren’t many authentic French restaurants in town. Most of them were more fine-dining or were owned by hotels.
That’s why I decided to start my own French bistro—like a French cha chaan teng, something that’s affordable and down-to-earth. Now everyone knows what a bistro is, but 6 years ago when I started mine, nobody knew what it meant.
I’m participating in the upcoming Food Truck Festival—I’m a big supporter of the concept. They are very common in France, and sometimes the food tastes even better than at a regular restaurant. I’d love to have my own food truck someday.
Editor's note: The line "the low point of my career was also related to gossip about my younger brother" has been updated to better reflect Wong's portrayal of the events in 2009.