Hong Kong is extensively thought of one of the crucial difficult cities on this planet to function a restaurant – a roiling cauldron of fixing tastes, cleaver-sharp competitors and unsavory economics.
Proper on the coronary heart of its culinary world, with connections to no less than half of its hottest tables, is publicist Geoffrey Wu.
Wu and his 10-year-old consultancy agency The Forks and Spoons work with a number of the most embellished eating places and bars on the town, such because the two-Michelin starred TATE Eating Room and Ando, one of the crucial sought-after reservations on the town.
“I wouldn’t say we’re higher at our job than different folks. I’d say we’re totally different,” he tells CNN Journey in The Baker and The Bottleman, a brand new informal bakery and pure wine bar by superstar British chef Simon Rogan, the place he’s agreed to spill a number of the secrets and techniques of Hong Kong’s eating scene.
After being expelled from the College of Science and Know-how in Hong Kong for “skipping too many lessons to play playing cards at McDonald’s,” Wu joined Amber, the famed French restaurant below the helm of Richard Ekkebus, as operations employees in 2005.
Over the subsequent few years he took on numerous advertising roles for various corporations – however at all times discovered himself again within the meals and beverage business. In 2012, he opened his F&B consultancy agency.
Wu isn’t your typical meals and beverage publicist. He isn’t congenial. He’s identified for often yelling at purchasers for making a mistake, or members of the media he feels haven’t achieved their analysis.
“I’m not afraid to talk up – folks know that for positive. Generally you want a guide who is easy about issues that have to be fastened. We aren’t right here to therapeutic massage your ego. We’re right here for the outcomes. We’re right here to win,” says Wu, sounding extra like a soccer coach than a PR skilled.
“If I wished to please everybody, I’d go promote ice cream. Fortunately, most of my purchasers perceive.”
Amongst these purchasers is Yenn Wong, founder and chief government officer of JIA, a restaurant group behind standard award-winning Hong Kong eateries like Mono and Duddell’s.
“The Forks and Spoons perceive and personalize the wants of every idea and is at all times staying very present with the related methods to make sure we as purchasers get essentially the most publicity to our audience, which in the end delivers optimistic income development,” Wong tells CNN Journey.
One of many essential duties for a F&B publicist is to be bodily current at a restaurant, based on Wu. He’s both tinkering with menus, sampling new dishes or just assembly with purchasers.
It may very well be something from translating the restaurant’s a la carte menu from Chinese language into English to working with cooks on selecting dishes for a tasting menu, “so you may see what’s taking place and let the employees know that you simply care,” says Wu.
For example, later that day, he says he’s having a trial lunch at Bluhouse, a brand new informal Italian eating idea on the Rosewood Lodge in Kowloon.
“At a tasting, we’ll take a look at all the things – style, presentation and temperature of the meals. We additionally take a look at furnishings, operation circulate, pricing, and so on.,” he says. “No new restaurant is ever excellent, however let’s attempt to decrease the error.
“Now we have solely labored with purchasers in Asia – Hong Kong, Macao, Maldives, and so on – however I actually consider that Hong Kong is essentially the most cutthroat meals and beverage market on this planet.”
His declare isn’t baseless.
Getting the opening proper is crucial in Hong Kong as a consequence of its competitiveness.
Town is continuously named because the world’s most costly rental location. And Hong Kong residents are a few of – if not the – greatest spenders on eating out, particularly pre-Covid. Meals imports are extraordinarily costly.
Based on a latest authorities survey, Hong Kong households spent a median of HKD60,539 (or US$7,761) on meals out and takeaway meals within the yr of 2019 to 2020 – Hong Kong suffered from half a yr of social unrest in 2019 earlier than the outbreak of Covid in 2020
That was about double what New York-area family spent on common on meals away from residence throughout the identical yr.
“It’s such a condensed market,” says Wu.
“Folks at all times discuss. Hong Kong clients are additionally very educated. When you don’t get it proper from the get-go, it’s a must to revamp many issues. The query is – will the shoppers offer you a second probability? There are such a lot of decisions that chances are high they’d go some other place.
“So to construct a profitable restaurant, it’s essential to ensure the opening is a robust one. With good phrase of mouth then companies will come. It’s that easy.”
Living proof: Bluhouse. It opened in June and dinner reservations are full by October and November on the time of the writing.
Hong Kong’s F&B business has developed quickly within the final decade, thanks partially to the arrival of Michelin Information in 2009 in addition to the rise of social media and the native meals group.
Cooks in Hong Kong have skilled a shift of their roles.
“Some 20 years in the past, cooks principally simply cooked and served meals,” says Wu.
“Now in 2022, there may be additionally this factor referred to as relationship constructing. Cooks have to point out their faces. They’ve to the touch the tables and to take photos with friends. The job of a chef is way larger than earlier than. All of it goes again to a necessity for human connection. Prospects, media, influencers, bloggers – everybody needs to have a human connection.”
And it simply makes good enterprise sense – friends usually tend to return to a restaurant the place they’ve established a relationship with the chef.
The issue, in fact, is that chatting with diners doesn’t come naturally to all cooks. That’s the place Wu is available in.
“We simply encourage and encourage and encourage them,” he says.
He cites Manav Tuli of recent Indian restaurant Chaat – which can also be positioned on the Rosewood – as a hit story. Chaat opened in 2020 and gained its first Michelin star two years later.
Distinctive dishes like Tuli’s showstopping tandoori lobster – Indian meals with a Hong Kong seafood twist – and a group of educated employees which communicates the tales of the meals superbly are a number of the causes Chaat is one among Hong Kong’s hardest to e-book eating places.
Tables are launched two months upfront and swept up in minutes.
However the greatest star of Chaat is Tuli, thought of one of many metropolis’s most beloved culinary figures proper now.
“When he arrived two years in the past, he didn’t know the panorama or tradition of Hong Kong,” mentioned Wu. “He’s a quiet individual however we align in a sure means as we each have a drive. For him, shifting his household to Hong Kong with him, he needs to make this a hit. So we have now been working very intently since day one on that,” mentioned Wu.
He inspired Tuli to satisfy the friends and fellow cooks, becoming a member of him at occasions and meals because the chef constructed a reputation for himself.
On his days off, Wu organizes lunches for media, together with revered business critics, and cooks he works with or may match with sooner or later.
These usually happen at venues Wu doesn’t work for, from Hop Sze, a no-frills Cantonese diner that has a six-month wait record, to the Discussion board Restaurant, a Chinese language joint with three Michelin stars.
“I labored til 4 a.m [this morning]. I solely joined as a result of Geoffrey Wu organized this lunch,” one meals critic tells CNN Journey as he enters the non-public eating room inside Discussion board.
The menu of the day contains every kind of dishes – from avenue food-style rice rolls to basic Cantonese candy and bitter pork and the restaurant’s well-known braised abalone.
As with most lunches with Wu, there’s additionally an off-menu shock.
Adam Wong, the manager chef, and CK Poon, the final supervisor, are available with a pushcart close to the top of the meal.
“We’re considering of including this to the subsequent menu replace,” says Poon as he caramelizes sugar for the candied apple fritter (ba si apple), a Northern Chinese language-style dessert, on-site.”It’s the primary time we’re doing this – so tell us what you suppose.”
The five-hour lunch wraps up with business gossip over bottles of cognac.
However Wu is rarely not working.
He punctuates gatherings with potential collaboration concepts (Tuli and Wong exchanged concepts that day on a hookup between the 2 eating places), and fills in moments of silence with jokes to maintain the meal entertaining.
“I at all times say that I’m the chief leisure officer,” says Wu. “Constructing relationships takes time. Chilly-calling and sending press releases aren’t constructing a relationship.”
On the finish of the day, connections gained’t get you far if the meals isn’t good or the restaurant refuses to evolve.
“Taste doesn’t lie,” says Wu. “However all the things – eating places, bars, cooks – has a shelf life. It’s unattainable to remain primary eternally. It’s essential preserve arising with new concepts to proceed to raise the restaurant.”
It may very well be doing extra tableside companies, educating friends in regards to the dishes, or just including a pre-dessert chew that cleanses the palate, he says.
One in all Wu’s newest duties is to edit the menu at one among his new purchasers, Yong Fu, a Michelin-starred restaurant that makes a speciality of high-end delicacies from China’s east coast Ningbo area.
He’d prefer to trim down the unique one-inch-thick e-book and has created a tasting menu to supply a extra curated ordering expertise.
In Hong Kong, Ningbo delicacies is usually confused with Shanghai delicacies. The tasting menu contains dishes that diners could not know sufficient about to order – a “sticky” boiled wax gourd and yellow croaker fish in bitter broth, for instance – that amplify the trinity of Ningbo delicacies’s star flavors: “savory, umami and sticky.”
Yu Qiong, Yong Fu’s supervisor, is there to supply an in-depth rationalization on every of the dishes.
“These are a number of the issues that may enrich the entire eating expertise,” says Wu. He compares advertising eating places with operating: “Hold refining. Hold pushing. My perception is, simply don’t cease till you might be on the ending line.”
It’s an apt metaphor. The avid runner wakes up at 5:45 a.m. on most days to slot in train.
“I take pleasure in Hong Kong on quiet mornings when the town hasn’t woken up but. Whenever you run, you see plenty of issues and take into consideration plenty of issues,” says Wu.
As for what was on his thoughts that exact morning?
“I used to be interested by our interview. I used to be interested by not swearing. I did nicely – I solely swore as soon as.”