As you are eye-to-eye looking across the table at a loved one this Valentine’s Day, remember to give some love back to the wonderful people who are Behind the Dish – those making the magic happen in the kitchens and on the restaurant floors of our gorgeous city. To celebrate our love for food and the stunning restaurant scene we have in Hong Kong, we asked chefs, restaurateurs and managers to reveal the moment they each realised they would dedicate their life to making other people feel the love when dining out. We discovered that our industry leaders really are crazy in love with food!

Russell Doctrove, Group Corporate Chef, Maximal Concepts

Russell Doctrove, Corporate Group Chef, Maximal Concepts

On how he got on the F&B love train

I had always been cooking from a very young age and can remember making my own breakfast each morning whilst still in primary school. I remember travelling to the States when I was around nine or 10 and falling in love with the Food Network channel, and I always had an interest in cooking and restaurants. At 16, I knew I wanted to become a chef and set about gaining work experience during my summer holidays.

On Maximal Concepts’ crazy little thing called love for sustainability

Taking the time to gather the relevant documentation from suppliers that proves they are sourcing ethically and sustainably is something that I have been proud to put into action. In this industry, it is easy to base every decision on price and profit, and changing this mentality in the long run is better for us as a group and for our guests.

Chef Doctrove’s hard work is reflected in a wide variety of cuisines under Maximal Concepts. Check out the visual menus of Limewood, Brickhouse, Mercedes me Store and Blue.

Ed Rolston and Matt Lamming, co-founders, Three Blind Mice

3BM Burger at Three Blind Mice Hong Kong by @fruity_tomato

Photo credit: @fruity_tomato

On being two good friends with a whole lotta love for the industry

It’s great….I’m sure both of our girlfriends get fed up with the amount of time with spend with each other though! We met about 10 years ago at university and have shared a lot of similar experiences, which made setting up a business together pretty easy as we know each other’s strengths. We have a solid understanding of each other and can say what we want without things getting taken personally. If one of us overlooks anything, the other generally has it covered. Occasionally we’ll have a difference of opinion, and it’s usually settled with a conversation…. or we just throw plates at each other and call each other names – jokes!

On the similarities between restaurants and rugby (their higher love)

The obvious similarities are the discipline and work ethic you learn from professional sport. The mindset to learn, adapt and improve is equally as important when it comes to restaurants. Working in a team is something you need on the field, and in a restaurant it is no different. We rely on others around us to do their jobs, and others rely on us to do ours. You can’t survive as a team made up of individuals, and it reflects in the customer experience when everyone is pulling together. Another must is a high pain tolerance – sometimes you can feel just as broken after a hectic few shifts in the restaurant as you can walking off the rugby pitch.

From meat dishes to pasta, Three Blind Mice serves indulgent comfort food. Check out their visual menu here on Dishtag.

Paola Farizo, general manager, 121BC

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On how she got in the love shack of hospitality
From a young age, l loved inviting friends over for a succulent meal, first prepared by my lovely mother and later on by myself. I would have six to eight friends over for dinner almost every night while living in Barcelona, making my flat a place of gathering where great moments, good food and drinks were shared. It was my favourite time of the day.

On her fondest love-bomb-baby memory from 121BC
We won a few awards in the past year, including three glasses in China’s Wine List of the Year 2018. We curate a selection that is different from what you might find at other venues as we only serve Italian wines. We were also recently awarded The Best Wine List in Hong Kong 2019 under the Top Italian Restaurants category by the Gambero Rosso wine-rating organisation. I think these awards are a great way to create a stronger identity, and the 121BC team are tremendously proud of it.

Fabio Nicotra, head chef, 121BC

 Fabio Nicotra, head chef, 121BC

When he realised he had a crazy little thing called love for the chef’s life
Definitely cooking for my family and friends, and my girlfriend at the time when I was at university. I used to have dinner parties most Sunday nights. The process of being able to create special memories through food was something I really enjoyed. My girlfriend actually bought me a chef’s uniform for my birthday so I could wear it during these dinner parties, before I became a chef. It turned out later to be the most useful birthday present I’ve ever received because I wore it to work when I switched careers!

On the dish that is the sunshine of your life
Definitely my nonna’s spaghetti meatballs. I have so many fond childhood memories of this dish. It proves to me that a dish can represent something more than just food, but also nostalgic memories of family and comfort. I have her recipe, but I’ve never tried to replicate it I just wouldn’t do it justice!

Sample Italian dishes inspired by the season, paired with good wines, at 121BC. View their visual menu here on Dishtag.

Gianni Caprioli, founder and chef, Giando

Gianni Caprioli, founder and chef, Giando

On the moment you realised the F&B industry just called to say I love you

I started handling food at a young age as I spent a good part of my childhood helping my father to harvest produce on the family farms. I learned that the love and care we put into our land, our produce and livestock result in the best-quality ingredients. At 11, I started working at our local butcher and selling produce from our farms at markets, and by 14, I was working in the kitchen. To this day, I have been cooking with a passion for the goodness of natural ingredients and continue to be an ambassador of organic, non-GMO produce and foods.

On the one important quality that you can say is the “best of my love” for F&B

Having lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, I can say that passion is important to successfully run a restaurant and make it grow in this city. Hong Kong is a financial city – it’s lively, busy and competitive. The danger of such an environment is that it drives restaurants to make compromises in different parts of their business, from operations to the quality of ingredients. It’s a numbers game. Remembering the important fact that food connects people to one another, to their emotions and to Mother Earth (something numbers can’t do) helps to keep this passion for the industry alive.

On the dish that most symbolises your crazy love for food
It could be any dish – a lasagne, a stew or sweet bell peppers roasted on charcoal. It’s the attention and time dedicated to a dish that is the ultimate expression of love for me.

Indulge in a meal at Giando for a taste of Chef Caprioli’s passion for cooking.

Laura Offe, co-founder, Meraki Hospitality Group (Uma Nota & BEDU)

Laura Offe, co-founder, Uma Nota

On F&B being an endless love or more of an emotional roller coaster

F&B is an invigorating industry; there is a rush you get from working in F&B that you don’t get in other careers. and there’s a certain kind of passion you need to thrive in it. It’s almost like a relationship. On some days you ask yourself, why am I doing this? – but most of the time you are filled with strong, happy emotions because you made a customer super happy, a dish you are proud of got great feedback or your internal customers (your staff) are thriving themselves. It’s hard work, like any relationship.

On how she got addicted to the love of food
Both my parents were in hospitality. My father, a chef, was always so passionate. Although he told us to get into F&B, seeing that he would always go to work with such joy and passion made my brother, Alex, and I want to have that in our own careers. I studied hospitality and worked in the industry for four years. I then started to wonder whether all the hard work and late nights were something I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. This led me to earn my master’s in luxury brands and marketing. But while sitting at a nine-to-five job doing market research, I thought to myself, I can’t do this. There was no rush of excitement that I felt in hospitality, so I decided to get back into the industry and have not regretted it since.

On the same love her and her brother, Alex, share for food

Alex and I get along very well, and we have been able to build a solid ground where we know what our roles are. Even though we’re very different, we always ask each other, what do you think? and never take differences personally. Thankfully, we don’t disagree a lot! It’s about understanding where the other person is coming from. No matter where we are, we try to keep communicating to make sure that we are always on the same wavelength and that no friction would arise from something petty. Ultimately, as an older sister, there is a sense of protection I have over Alex (and vice versa), so we always try to protect our relationship as siblings and business partners.

Uma Nota brings Brazilian street food with a Japanese influence from São Paulo to Hong Kong. Check out the colourful visual menu here on Dishtag.

BEDU is a modern Middle Eastern restaurant inspired by the nomadic Bedouin tribes. Check out the colourful visual menu here on Dishtag.

Michael David Larkin, general manager, Potato Head Hong Kong

Michael David Larkin, general manager, Potato Head Hong Kong

On the one moment that started your love story with F&B

Wow, that is a tricky one. My parents opened the first Irish pubs in Romania after the fall of communism. I grew up in them, started washing glasses when I was 12, pulling pints when I was 13 and helped to manage them when I was 18. I was always in F&B, but I’d have to say a St Patrick’s Day about 14 years ago was the moment I fell in love with hospitality. We had a band, Guinness, hats and all… but at one point I went to the office and printed out all the lyrics to the songs on A4 and handed them out to the crowd. They didn’t know what the words meant, but the band started playing and 250 people started to sing, shoulder to shoulder, swilling Guinness and cheering. It was then I realised that hospitality is not about the food, the drink or the service, but making a night special. I fell in love with that!

On the one thing about the job that you l-o-v-e the most

I’m very competitive. Always played sport when I was a kid, but that was a hard transition into F&B as there are no goals, posts or clubs. But I soon realised when I was a food runner at La Bodega Negra in London that there are teams. They’re not exactly competing, the customers and the staff, but we are striving for the same thing: a great night. I soon realised that if you put the right people in the right place at the right time, a service can be amazing.

On the single most crazy-stupid-love quality one needs to manage a restaurant like Potato Head
You can have the best interior, with the most amazing food and drink, sexy lighting and brilliant music, but if your team don’t love what they do and help you to deliver that vision, you might as well close. Your team are by far the most important part of any venue. Only they can hold your hand and guide you through the journey the venue has to offer, the way it should be experienced. Love your team!

Head to Kaum at Potato Head Hong Kong for punchy Indonesian flavours in a relaxed, stylish setting. Check out the the visual menu here on Dishtag.

We couldn’t have said it better than that! Thanks to all the industry leaders who shared their valuable time with us this Valentine’s Day. Big kisses from all of us at Dishtag!

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