Out to lunch with former international model Rosemary Vandenbroucke at Gough’s on Gough

Former international model, now yoga instructor, talks about her latest project, Daybreaker, over a course of delicious dishes at modern British restaurant in SoHo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 7:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 5:44pm

We are sitting in a small private room on the 2nd floor of Gough’s on Gough, the new Timothy Oulton modern British restaurant in SoHo, surrounded by incredible craftsmanship of vintage inspired furnishings from this quintessential British furniture designer. The black leather booth fills the room, overlooking Gough Street and a quirky zebra wall hanging lurks in one of the corners.

Sitting across the booth is Rosemary Vandenbroucke, who was an international model at the age of 14, and who later evolved into a singer-songwriter and actress. She’s in casual attire with no make-up. “I’ve just come from teaching a class,” she says.

These days Vandenbroucke is a certified yoga instructor and a qualified health coach. “I just finished my 500 hours with a flash mob in the middle of one of Bali’s most famous shopping malls,” she says. “It was an hour-and-a-half-long event where we incorporated a journey through the five senses and five elements - we had afra house dance movements, followed by yoga, when I put every one into shevasana [a pose where participants lie flat on their backs while breathing deeply]. We had an amazing electric cellist, playing and entrancing everyone.”

As we peruse the menu by head chef Arron Rhodes, who is renowned for his clean and sustainably sourced ingredients, Vandenbroucke - a recent convert to vegetarianism - eyes the dashi custard with sea urchin, shimeji mushrooms, trout eggs and teriyaki sauce. “I may have to make an exception today and try this,” she says.

“I tried to become a vegetarian last year and my body reacted very badly. I felt bloated and my stomach was inflamed. I started breaking out. So after one month, I said, ‘Enough is enough’. I had a burger and, I kid you not, the next day, I cleared up. So I felt vegetarianism wasn’t for me. But after studying and learning more about our environment and doing my part, I decided this year that I was really going to give it a proper shot. So it’s been over seven months.”

We both then went for the Peruvian corn with chicha morada-infused corn, leche de tigre sauce, popped kaniwa grains and warm avocado, a dish inspired by Rhode’s recent trip to Peru. The flavours were deliciously smooth and balanced, light with crunch and textures from the corn and kaniwa grains - a cousin of quinoa.

Vandenbroucke then went for the handmade gnocchi, smoked in applewood cheddar cheese sauce with pickled potatoes and Angel Farm herbs, with a side of creamed spinach. I tried the roasted Hawkes Bay lamb rump with garlic and lemon purée, salt cured carrots, edamame beans and Angel Farm herbs with a side of roast carrots with orange and ewe milk ricotta and gremolata. Every dish was perfect and the service was impeccable and well paced, not intrusive.

We soon get onto the subject of Vandenbroucke’s latest project, Daybreaker. She brought the concept - an early morning dance movement - to Hong Kong from the United States last October.

“Daybreaker started out of a social experiment. It stemmed from the US, with founders Radha Agrawal and Matt Brimer just talking over kebabs, saying how gyms are quite monotonous and how people are divided by headphones and not really socialising and connecting with each other. And nightlife, people are getting drunk, drugs and all that. So, why not create a safe place where people can really enjoy the music, have fun and be themselves. And it just took off and now we are in 20 cities around the world.

I tried to become a vegetarian last year and my body reacted very badly
Rosemary Vandenbroucke

“I was fortunate enough to get connected with them through my husband [Jason Swamy], who is a creator and director of numerous festivals in the US and Thailand. He’s the director at Wonderfruit. He connected me to Radha, who was a guest speaker at one of his festivals, and I was just fascinated and wanted to learn more about it; it’s something I haven’t seen or heard about in Asia, let alone Hong Kong. So I went and experienced my first Daybreaker in LA. I was just thrilled. And I just had to bring this to Hong Kong.

“October last year was our first activation and we were blessed to have Calvin Klein Performance to coincide with their launch of their Performance line. So that helped us raise more buzz. They flew in and helped us with the marketing.

“The beautiful part of Daybreaker is that it’s unpredictable. Even the location is unpredictable. That keeps the magic alive. Our first one ... was not like anyone has experienced elsewhere. We divided an hour of fitness into four parts. We started with 15 minutes of yoga, then it flowed into Capoeira - Brazilian dance - then it flowed into a combat series, followed by 90s aerobics ... Because it was the first one, I told people to come with a curious heart.”

Back to desserts, and Vandenbroucke tucked into a perfectly made chocolate fondant with Peruvian cacao, salted caramel, tonka bean, opaline tuile, while I went for the Icelandic skyr of macerated berries, toasted oat granola, white chocolate crumble and local honey, which, surprisingly, was not too sweet.

Vandenbroucke does not seem to worry about what she eats these days as besides her coaching and yoga classes, she still is an active Trailwalker, having completed some of the toughest walks in the world.

“I am running the Oxfam Trailwalker, which is a 100km race in November, and I am doing the Moontrekker, both for the third time. I did my first one in 2008 and my second 100km in 2011 with my husband which is a funny story. He had heard that I had done the 100km before and it was on his bucket list of things to do. So, to start conversations, he was, like, ‘Hey, what are your tips?’, which led to ‘Why don’t we just train together’. I was in a relationship at the time, so we were just running buddies. So when he got word that I was no longer with my boyfriend, he asked me out on a date. And I held him to his word about doing Oxfam Trailwalker and we did that in 2011. Then another thing on his bucket list was the Great Wall, which is the fifth hardest marathon in the world. And a couple of years past and he said ‘Hey what about the Great Wall?’. So without thinking I signed us up and said, ‘We’re doing it’. That was in 2013 and he proposed to me at the end of the marathon.”