Food Space: cooking studio and organic grocery in Tai Po has put down roots fast
Food Space is an interloper in the line of stalls selling daily necessities at Tai Po's Tai Yuen market. With a focus on healthy eating, the shop, private kitchen and cooking demonstration venture is the brainchild of two long-time F&B professionals, Frenchman Thierry Lanoe and Argentinian Francisco Barria.
A gleaming stainless steel kitchen is fronted by shelves of mainly organic food from five continents. Biscuits and honey-flavoured gingerbread, cereals and flour, gluten- and dairy-free items jostle for space with pulses and spices, diabetic jams, fruit juices and organic snacks and top-of-the-range kitchen appliances. Daily cooking demonstrations with free tastings draw a growing number of people from nearby residential blocks and further.
Health-conscious residents of Hong Lok Yuen have discovered Food Space and its potential as a venue for private dining and special events. Ana Shu, for instance, took advantage of the presence of David Jean Marteau, an award-winning visiting French-Canadian chef from Shanghai, to invite 14 family members for a Lunar New Year dinner.
"I was not sure how it would turn out, so I experimented on my family. Hong Kong has so many private kitchens, and most of them are very similar. I am happy to have found something different."
Innovative promotion is the key to success. Products are displayed so they provoke questions from browsers, says Barria, who is fluent in Putonghua and picking up colloquial Cantonese.
"The experience of a product is all-important, tastings are essential.
"We enjoy the way we have been almost adopted by other market vendors, many of whom have become our customers and, in many cases, our advisers. They help us a lot. When we recently introduced dairy-free ice cream, Happy Cow, we tried out samples on our neighbours. We expected chocolate and green tea to be the most popular flavours. But it turned out that spiced 'chai' [Indian tea] won top votes."
Food Space had a rocky start. Opening just before Christmas, only a fraction of the planned stock had arrived. Even worse, the French chef recruited for the venture backed out. Fortunately, Lanoe has a wide network of professional contacts around the region. A new team member from the Philippines will arrive soon to conduct cooking classes for Filipino domestic helpers as well as cook for private diners. Between them, Lanoe and Barria have maintained the daily schedule of food shows, a part of their tenancy agreement.
Most of their stock has since arrived, including organic wines. A delivery service for online shoppers will start soon and further plans include lunch box classes.
Many elderly Tai Po residents drop in for a chat while their children are working and their grandchildren are at school. A recovering cancer patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, has cultivated an interest in healthy eating since becoming ill. He has become Food Space's unofficial ambassador, visiting daily to chat with window shoppers about the products he has tried and encouraging them to experiment. He recently bought a juicer and requested a full demonstration before taking it home.
A casual conversation that the founders had with sisters Heidi and Angel Leung has turned into a mutually beneficial collaboration. The Leungs ran a small restaurant near Tai Po until they fell victim to rising rents and switched to private catering. Shopping in the market one day, they got talking to Lanoe and Barria. "I soon realised we are all on the same wavelength," says Heidi Leung.
The sisters now conduct regular cooking classes at Food Space and cook private dinners there once a week.