Chefs in Hong Kong redefine the power lunch
More chefs are catering to the needs of time-conscious business people seeking out tasty yet healthy lunchtime options
Stealing away from the office for lunch is often a luxury in our hectic corporate culture, and power lunches no longer stretch into the afternoons on unrestrained budgets.
But power lunches have not completely disappeared. They have evolved from the wheeling and dealing of old, over rib-eye and cocktails, to a more sophisticated executive lunch experience for busy and health-conscious professionals. Chefs are aware of the time constraints facing executives, and of the need to provide healthy choices and cater to diverse dietary needs.
We spoke to three chefs who draw a strong lunchtime following with their popular executive menu options.
Café Gray Deluxe’s chef Gray Kunz is aware that business people are more health conscious and just as likely to be women as men. He is therefore in the process of creating new healthy options with his chef de cuisine Eric Räty.
“I am creating a full blown, non-GMO, sustainably-sourced celiac [wheat or gluten-free] menu items with chef Eric; we are trying to organise the farmers,” says New York-based Kunz. “That’s where I see the trend going. I think it will be successful but I need time to really put it all together - we are catering to the well-being of the diners. I think that is very important.”
Kunz sees the lunch menu as important because of the sheer volume of diners. He has choices of appetisers, mains and desserts, and the menu changes on a weekly basis.
“If a dish from the lunch menu is successful, we will put it on the à la carte menu, but we need to tweak it before [doing so] because the portion size is bigger [at night], and maybe the seasonal vegetables change.”
Signature dishes that stay on both menus are steak tartare and gravlax.
“Gravlax is very classic and we have perfected that recipe over a long time. It’s been well received, and the black cod [is also popular]. The changes are [to] the seasonal vegetables, so right now we have peas and fava beans.” For those opting for dessert, Kunz puts his own spin on traditional pavlova.
“We have lemon curd inside and strawberries on top and then we put sorrel sorbet and strawberry coulis with it, so you have the sourness and the crunchiness from the pavlova itself. I always look at the flavour combination and textures, acidity and crunch and seasonal fruits.”
Kunz is convinced that the front-of-house team is important for a successful lunchtime experience. “Service is very important, especially for the business luncheon; their explanations of the menu are something that can really help or sink the kitchen. It’s a key element to success.”
In nearby Central, Arcane’s head chef and co-owner Shane Osborn has regular lunch clientele who eat there two or three times a week. To keep things interesting, he changes menu items sometimes daily.
“We make changes according to availability of ingredients. Sometimes we will have two changes during the week on the set menu,” says Australian-born Osborn. “People who come in have an hour or an hour and a half, so service must be quick.
The set menu is simple - it can be a pasta or soup to start. Today, we have hamachi with pomelo. The hamachi is raw and sliced very thin with sea salt on top, and beautiful avocados. I got a tray of avocados from Australia last week, so we will run that dish just today. They are the best avocados I have had in years.
The main course is wagyu blade braised for about three and a half hours, it comes with buttery potato, roasted and chargrilled onions, crispy bacon, sautéed kale. It’s like a beef bourguignon in flavour.”
The dessert is hazelnut praline mousse with passion fruit ice cream, little chocolate crumbles and pasturised crème freche.
“We try to keep desserts at lunchtime home style, like apple tart with vanilla ice cream. We have to make [them] attractive, something you can do at home but which we do better - entice them to have that extra course at lunch.
“It’s the kind of food I like to eat. I think it’s delicious, not overly complicated and it must be at the right price point,” Osborn adds.
Edwin Tang, executive sous chef at The Mira’s Cantonese restaurant Cuisine Cusine, keeps in mind that the business crowd only has an hour and a half when he is designing his executive lunch menu.
The menu has just changed and features dishes with quality ingredients that are widely available throughout the year as his menu will not change too much. “Guest preferences are an important part of the dishes we choose to put on the menu,” says Tang, who rejoined the restaurant as executive sous chef nine months ago after a stint at The Mandarin Oriental. His menu includes a choice of appetisers from the signature menu and a main course.
New menu items include wagyu beef chuck with asparagus and mushrooms. “Wagyu is the right type of beef to go with Chinese ingredients,” says the chef, who regards value for money a key ingredient for his lunchtime diners.
Another tasty dish is the Sichuan-style noodles with minced pork and peanut sauce in spicy soup. “Sichuan cuisine is popular in Hong Kong, this is one of the most loved dishes,” he says. He also has a vegetarian option.
“Stewed mushroom wrapped in tofu sheets reminds me of what my mother used to make - tofu sheets wrapped around ingredients gives me a warm feeling. We add abalone sauce to make it a premium dish,” he adds .
“This dish is contemporary but it still needs to connect to customers’ hearts. Connecting to Chinese culture and home and balancing ingredients is what I do.”