Hong Kong’s best chefs prepare city’s biggest buffet in aid of children’s charity

The 24th Great Chefs of Hong Kong event offers every imaginable cuisine from more than 40 restaurants, with proceeds going to Heep Hong Society to fund education and training for children in need

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 6:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 1:10pm

Food indulgence is usually not very pretty. Case in point: that video of tourists fighting over shrimp at a buffet in Thailand. One of the rare exceptions is the Great Chefs of Hong Kong charity event. For this annual feast in support of the Heep Hong Society, indulgence is a beautiful thing.

Now in its 24th year, the fundraiser and culinary extravaganza brings together chefs from restaurants and hotels across the city for a night of gourmet delights. Guests enjoy an all-they-can-eat evening while benefiting the leading local organisation in education and training for children of different abilities.

More than 40 chefs will be featured this year, serving up every cuisine imaginable at the Grand Hyatt on May 12. For the event’s long-serving chairwoman, Kim Murphy, putting together the city’s biggest buffet is never easy no matter how many years she’s done it.

“The main challenge is [maintaining] consistency and also keeping it fresh and exciting,” says Murphy, a nutritionist who also runs the hospitality consultancy Food & Beverage Solutions (FABS). “Many chefs come every year. Probably about 70 per cent have been coming for 10 years. Then there some that drop out and we have to replace them. There are always new restaurants in Hong Kong, so there’s 30 per cent new participants each year.

“It makes it exciting that we don’t have the same things every year. Part of our job on the committee is to make sure we have a good mix of food. For example, my restaurant [the Beach Club] was going to do a dessert but I had to tell them, ‘No, you’re doing a savoury because we already have too many desserts’. We try to make sure there’s enough sweets, savoury, spicy, Chinese, Japanese, and so on.”

The food and beverage outlets pitching in include Porterhouse by Laris (serving delicious pork buns with XO sauce), Namo Avant Thai (with their Chiang Mai ribs), Coyote Bar & Grill (pulled pork tacos), Jinjuu and VEA Restaurant & Lounge, as well as hotels such as The Peninsula, Harbour Grand and Hotel Icon.

Unlike other benefit dinners, the Great Chefs event is never a sit-down, formal affair. Since its inception, it’s about encouraging people to mingle and explore all the food stations and meet with the chefs in person.

“At most charity events you are stuck at one table for the night listening to speeches, auctions or that sort of thing,” Murphy explains. “Ours is a feel-good night with lots of sharing. You get to go around, chat with the chefs and ask how things are put together. For the public, they don’t [usually] get to see the chefs, so that’s exciting.

She adds that people in the industry love it, too, because they get to taste the food of their peers.

But it is still a lot of work for chefs. To convince more hospitality businesses to join, Murphy makes sure the event falls on a slower weekday and not on a weekend. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get the chefs out of their own kitchen.”

It helps that she has the backing of the Grand Hyatt hotel, which has generously sponsored its space, along with its resources and equipped kitchen, to host the evening.

“We talked about doing it outdoors but the logistics are just a nightmare, plus we can’t bank on the weather. So, it’s nice to do it in an air-conditioned environment,” she says, referring to the Grand Hyatt’s surroundings.

The logistics of fitting in so many chefs is complicated – each restaurant only has about 20 minutes to set-up. Murphy credits the generosity of the Grand Hyatt staff for helping things run smoothly.

“To have more than 40 chefs come in and ask for stuff, [Grand Hyatt] has been very generous and giving.”

Most years, Heep Hong has managed to raise more than HK$2 million for needy children and their parents. “We started in the old Hilton Hotel with just 200 people. Then it went to the Conrad and the J.W. Marriott, and we’ve been in Grand Hyatt for 15 years. Now we have 1,200 paying guests and about 300 people working on the night. We literally take over the hotel.”

Tickets come in three categories. General tickets are HK$880 and let guests taste signature dishes from 30 restaurants. Great Chef Plus tickets are HK$1,580 with access to food from 40 restaurants and a Grand Room seating area. The top tier is HK$1,980 for Star Chef Plus tickets which offer access to all the restaurants’ dishes, plus exclusive tastings and seating in the panoramic Tiffin Lounge.

Suffice to say the only person who doesn’t end up well fed is organiser Kim Murphy.

“I go home hungry every year. My husband laughs about it with me at 1am, sitting with a glass of wine and a cheese sandwich. I just have no time to eat. I have sore feet and I’m hungry because there’s so much work, but it’s really good fun.”

For tickets, go to www.heephong.org/greatchefs

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Tickets to the Great Chef of Hong Kong event can be purchased at heephong.org/greatchefs/