Hong Kong is extensively thought-about one of the difficult cities on the 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 a minimum of half of its hottest tables, is publicist Geoffrey Wu.
Wu and his 10-year-old consultancy agency The Forks and Spoons work with among the most embellished eating places and bars on the town, such because the two-Michelin starred TATE Eating Room and Ando, one of the sought-after reservations on the town.
“I wouldn’t say we’re higher at our job than different individuals. I’d say we’re completely different,” he tells tokyo2la Journey in The Baker and The Bottleman, a brand new informal bakery and pure wine bar by movie star British chef Simon Rogan, the place he’s agreed to spill among the secrets and techniques of Hong Kong’s eating scene.
After being expelled from the College of Science and Expertise in Hong Kong for “skipping too many lessons to play playing cards at McDonald’s,” Wu joined Amber, the famed French restaurant underneath the helm of Richard Ekkebus, as operations employees in 2005.
Over the subsequent few years he took on numerous advertising and marketing roles for various firms – however at all times discovered himself again within the meals and beverage trade. 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 finished their analysis.
“I’m not afraid to talk up – individuals know that for certain. Typically you want a marketing consultant who is simple 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 widespread 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 target market, which in the end delivers constructive income progress,” Wong tells tokyo2la Journey.
One of many essential duties for a F&B publicist is to be bodily current at a restaurant, in keeping with 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.
As an illustration, 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 every little thing – style, presentation and temperature of the meals. We additionally take a look at furnishings, operation circulate, pricing, and many others.,” he says. “No new restaurant is ever good, however let’s attempt to reduce the error.
“We have now solely labored with purchasers in Asia – Hong Kong, Macao, Maldives, and many others – however I actually imagine that Hong Kong is essentially the most cutthroat meals and beverage market on the planet.”
His declare isn’t baseless.
Getting the opening proper is crucial in Hong Kong as a result of its competitiveness.
Town is incessantly named because the world’s most costly rental location. And Hong Kong residents are a few of – if not the – largest spenders on eating out, particularly pre-Covid. Meals imports are extraordinarily costly.
In keeping with a current authorities survey, Hong Kong households spent a mean 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 speak. Hong Kong prospects are additionally very educated. In case you don’t get it proper from the get-go, it’s a must to revamp many issues. The query is – will the purchasers offer you a second probability? There are such a lot of decisions that likelihood is they’d go elsewhere.
“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 straightforward.”
Living proof: Bluhouse. It opened in June and dinner reservations are full by way of October and November on the time of the writing.
Hong Kong’s F&B trade has advanced 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 largely simply cooked and served meals,” says Wu.
“Now in 2022, there may be additionally this factor referred to as relationship constructing. Cooks have to indicate their faces. They’ve to the touch the tables and to take footage with visitors. The job of a chef is way larger than earlier than. All of it goes again to a necessity for human connection. Clients, media, influencers, bloggers – everybody desires to have a human connection.”
And it simply makes good enterprise sense – visitors 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 contemporary Indian restaurant Chaat – which can be situated 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 workforce of educated employees which communicates the tales of the meals fantastically are among the causes Chaat is one in every of Hong Kong’s hardest to e book eating places.
Tables are launched two months upfront and swept up in minutes.
However the largest star of Chaat is Tuli, thought-about 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,” stated Wu. “He’s a quiet particular person however we align in a sure means as we each have a drive. For him, shifting his household to Hong Kong with him, he desires to make this a hit. So we’ve got been working very intently since day one on that,” stated Wu.
He inspired Tuli to satisfy the visitors 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 trade critics, and cooks he works with or may fit with sooner or later.
These typically 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 tokyo2la Journey as he enters the non-public eating room inside Discussion board.
The menu of the day consists of every kind of dishes – from road food-style rice rolls to traditional 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 chief chef, and CK Poon, the final supervisor, are available in with a pushcart close to the tip of the meal.
“We’re pondering 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 trade 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 every little thing – eating places, bars, cooks – has a shelf life. It’s unattainable to remain primary perpetually. It’s essential maintain developing with new concepts to proceed to raise the restaurant.”
It may very well be doing extra tableside companies, educating visitors in regards to the dishes, or just including a pre-dessert chunk that cleanses the palate, he says.
One among Wu’s newest duties is to edit the menu at one in every of his new purchasers, Yong Fu, a Michelin-starred restaurant that focuses on high-end delicacies from China’s east coast Ningbo area.
He’d wish 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 consists of 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 clarification on every of the dishes.
“These are among the issues that may enrich the entire eating expertise,” says Wu. He compares advertising and marketing eating places with working: “Maintain refining. Maintain pushing. My perception is, simply don’t cease till you’re 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 town hasn’t woken up but. If you run, you see a number of issues and take into consideration a number of issues,” says Wu.
As for what was on his thoughts that exact morning?
“I used to be fascinated by our interview. I used to be fascinated by not swearing. I did nicely – I solely swore as soon as.”