Bonnae Gokson: 10 Years at the Top

Bonnae Gokson: 10 Years at the Top

As SEVVA celebrates a decade operating in Hong Kong’s difficult dining landscape, we take a brief look back

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Foodie  Foodie Your Guide to Good Taste  on 15 Mar '18

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We interviewed Bonnae Gokson for the first time back in 2012 – when she was already considered a stalwart of the industry, operating for over four years at that stage. Now, it’s six years on and she’s still at the top of her game as the Queen of Cakes with Ms B’s CAKERY and long-standing Hong Kong favourite SEVVA, renowned for its beautiful decor, panoramic urban views from the sky-high terrace and premium cuisine.

Back in 2012, we asked Ms Gokson for her thoughts on the food trends of the future, and she predicted, “In Hong Kong’s future, I foresee foods that are less fussy and heavy. Also, good classics revisited and more ways to present small plates to share other than Spanish tapas. And a relaxed plate with different textures to the bite, with the Americanisation and Asianisation of sauces.” Her wisdom in the industry speaks for itself, with all these predictions coming to life in the evolution of this city’s ever-changing culinary landscape. Today, in 2018, we find out how she has kept herself so consistently at the heights of Hong Kong’s notoriously fickle dining scene.
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To what do you attribute SEVVA’s enduring success?

We are so thankful to have reached this 10-year milestone, which seems just a blink of an eye. As founder, owner, managing director and creative visionary at SEVVA, I have led my team and steered the brand around countless pitfalls. I’ve remained very responsible, accountable and hands on with everything at the same time and, throughout these years, managed to inspire, encourage and motivate my team. I think these are some of the reasons for our success, as we are like a family. Even from our housekeeping department, we have at least four staff who’ve been with us since day one. Furthermore, our guests locally and internationally love to see the constant changes of touches and details that I have created over the years, and these all add up to SEVVA’s popularity and continued success.

What is your favourite thing about SEVVA?

Well, from the decor, to the ambience, menu and music, to everything you can see at SEVVA, I’ve created the brand. It’s hard to say one favourite thing. I believe everything has to be synchronised; I am just like a conductor who keeps the orchestra in balance and the music always playing.

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Raj salad

Do you have a favourite dish there?

Yes, I have more than one. I am quite simple with food and quality counts. I love our fried king prawns without the bread with a little salad and homemade tartare sauce in our king prawn toast, our simple piece of Wagyu sirloin and green soup.

What is some of the highest praise you’ve received about SEVVA over its 10 years?

We have had plenty of international visitors who are renowned architects, designers, fashion icons and foodies who’ve given us very complimentary accolades. Our local supporters always come up and tell us how much they love SEVVA, and we seriously are so grateful for all these very kind words. We’ve become an institution for Hong Kong and guests take great pride in showing SEVVA off to their friends.

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Shanghainese vegetable wontons

Operating as a successful businesswoman for such a long period, have you experienced much discrimination based on gender?

Glad to say not too much in my world, but I recall some moments back to my fashion days or maybe our earliest days at SEVVA that one or two of the chefs may have thought they were “kings“ and knew best. Anyway, that didn‘t last long, as I have proved I also have much knowledge on all cuisines – I have been exposed to plenty since I was a child.

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for budding female restaurateurs?

I respect females and their ability in F&B if they choose this industry. The most important thing is having the passion for the biz and being hands on at every level. Just saying you own a restaurant with some shares is nothing much to brag about. Passion and being very hands on in management, figures and all aspects are the keys. Be true to yourself and stay focused.

To whom do you look up?

There are plenty of very successful restaurateurs. I take my hat off to them all. I have always loved what Ian Schrager has done – probably not on the food side, but creating so many hospitality establishments like Studio 54, Gramercy Park Hotel, the EDITION Hotels and the PUBLIC Hotels.

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Vichyssoise with watercress soup

You’ve always had a large separate vegetarian menu. Why did you feel this was important even before it became popular?

It’s the way I’ve been taught and lived for years, respecting and understanding the goodness of vegetables. In my fashion career days, I was the person who started innovative and wholesome cuisine at JOYCE cafés – a fashion group that my sister formerly owned and founded. In fact, some of the chefs from SEVVA are even from then. It is only through education that one can understand the importance of healthy eating. I do not follow trends – it’s a way of life for me.

Since day one, we had biodynamic wines from Italy and organic drinking vinegars that are so beneficial for our health and we’ve used organic vegetables whenever available. We use a grade AAA organic soy sauce that is triple the price of normal ones and our water system has to be the best purified water for cooking – it is a must for my team to understand. I’ve taught them to honour this.

Could you share your favourite anecdote from SEVVA’s history?

I think I could write a book on so many memories that have happened – some fabulous and some not too great. One day, a staff member who led a team of cleaners who work overnight reported that a photo in our male toilet was missing. The frame was still there yet someone took out the black-and-white photograph (we have plenty of ”naughty guests“ at SEVVA – they love to steal!). Anyway, I wrote a note back to this ”thief“ and hung my note as an art piece back at the same spot in the loo. Today, it remains there – check it out!

What’s the plan for the next 10 years?

SEVVA’s tag line is ”savour the moment”. I still believe this and do not really plan for such a long time. As long as I am enjoying my work and my play of travels and life, why plan for so far? Just stay contented and remain healthy in mind and body. Que sera, sera...

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