Western chefs seek recipe for Eastern success

February 1, 2013
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Customers seated at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant Ho Hung Kee in Hong Kong/AFP
Customers seated at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant Ho Hung Kee in Hong Kong/AFP
HONG KONG, Feb 1 – Increasing numbers of Western chefs are looking to Asia to offset the dreary economies of the US and Europe, but the recipe for Eastern success depends on more than simply exporting expertise.

“What works in New York does not necessarily work in Hong Kong,” said Sandeep Sekhri, whose company Dining Concepts manages a stable of restaurants in the Chinese city and Macau that include ventures with Mario Batali and New York chef Michael White.

Batali last year opened a $3.2 million version of his famed New York family-style restaurant Lupa, situated in Hong Kong’s high-rent Central district.

Like its Manhattan counterpart, it offers dishes such as Ricotta Gnocchi with sausage and fennel, or veal-lined Saltimbocca. But its glossy take on Roman trattoria fare makes for a higher-end ambiance.

“People in Asia expect a higher comfort level, it needs to be a little bit more plush,” said Sekhri, who is managing director of Dining Concepts and says more Batali projects are in the pipeline.

With Asia’s economies in better shape than those in the eurozone or the United States, “someone who wouldn’t speak to us three, four or five years ago is now much more willing to talk”, said Sekhri of the so-called “celebrity chefs”.

The company, which last year posted gross annual revenue of $65 million, also boasts ventures with Michelin-starred chefs Sergi Arola from Spain and Australia’s Greg Malouf.

“The bigger the names the higher the expectations. We try to do a family-style trattoria with Lupa, but people compare us to a three (Michelin) star restaurant — which was totally not the price point or the idea.”

Batali has also recently opened two restaurants at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, where casino investments have helped lure the likes of French master Joel Robuchon, US-based Wolfgang Puck and Australia’s Tetsuya Wakuda.

— ‘Explosion’ of chefs —

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