We caught up recently with Chef Darnell Fields, who was the head chef when Franks won Foodie Forks Readers’ Choice Best New Restaurant 2019. It’s been a big year for him, with the chef getting married in New Zealand during the pandemic.
Hailing from Queens, New York City, Chef Fields worked at Locanda Verde amongst other popular restaurants in the Big Apple before moving to Hong Kong.
What are the differences between the New York and Hong Kong F&B scenes?
There are too many to list. The focus and drive for some cooks in Hong Kong seem lacking compared to those in New York City. I think this may be because culinary [training] and attending culinary school here doesn’t meet the “status” culture – by that I mean it’s not seen as a desired career.
It’s not common to start in culinary school here (obviously you can possess talent and drive without going), and based on my experience, the fundamentals of food and safety, knowledge of ingredients and techniques are not present with junior staff.
Something that stands out here is the big restaurant groups and the dominance they have, like a monopoly, especially in the Western market. At home it feels more competitive.
Why did you choose Italian as the cuisine to focus on?
I chose Italian because it felt closest to the home-cooked meals I had growing up; my heritage is from Jamaica, West Indies. Also, I come from New York City, and the Italian influence is second to none there and the food is amazing to cook and eat.
What is the biggest achievement in your career so far?
Becoming a head chef in 2018 [at Franks]. Being able to showcase a decade of experience, hard work and dedication. I know it made friends, family and former chefs proud.
Will you open up your own restaurant and, if so, would it be in Hong Kong?
I do see myself opening my own restaurant, but not in Hong Kong. I’m ready for a new challenge and eager to introduce my NYC-style Italian food elsewhere.
Which restaurant do you always revisit?
Margherita Pizza in New York City on Jamaica Avenue [in Queens) – the best pizza in the world. Check it out when you’re in New York. In Hong Kong, Zuma. It’s quality, and the service is on point. I’m obsessed with Japanese food and hope to broaden my skills in Japanese cuisine.
Why are you obsessed with Japanese cuisine?
It’s not just the cuisine, but the culture too in many ways. I’m fascinated by how things are prepared, the dedication and techniques involved. The passion is something to behold.
What do you do to relax on those rare days off?
I love to chill and spend as much time as I can with my wife – it feels good to say that. I watch films, go to the beach and have a swim. I play basketball, but the damn courts are closed. And when I can do these with friends, it’s even better.
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