Coconuts Colloquium #3: Tastemakers, star-chasing chefs, and the folly of uber foodies (PHOTOS)

Photo: Coconuts Media

Well, friends, we held the third installment of our new(ish) after work event series, the magniloquently-named Coconuts Colloquium, in Hong Kong last week, and you better believe it — boxes were ticked.

Pizza boxes: tick. Ice boxes with beer: tick. Boxes thought outside of: tick.

Well, a canny conversation’s not too much of a surprise when you’ve got some of the best in the food & beverage biz side-by-side chatting on a comfy set of chairs. It all went down at The Hive Sheung Wan, just one week after we held Colloquiums part deux in Bangkok.

We were chuffed to get to hear industry insights from Katie Forster, managing director at Katherine Amara PR; Owen Gibler, beverage director and principal bartender at Employees Only Hong Kong; Tara Babins, communications director for YardbirdRŌNIN, and Sunday’s Grocery; and Larry Tang, founder of Locofama.

Photo: Coconuts Media

Our panel of F&B pros unpacked the myths behind the value of those ubiquitous “best restaurant” and “best bars” lists — particularly the mother of them all, Mademoiselle Michelin Guide, furtive and French in her ways, but famed for what she relays.

A colloquium consensus was reached early on: What with the prominent guide’s venturing more and further away from its origins in western Europe in recent years, its relevance as a marker for success in the culinary world — particular here in Asia — certainly needs to be taken with a pinch of expensive artisanal vegan gluten-free rock salt.

It’s a matter of demographics, noted Gibler, who, sadly, did not wear the Santa hat featured in his festive panel profile pic (much to the disappointment, presumably, of everyone).

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

Ahem. Back to Gibler’s point, which was: While your Michelin lists or your “top 50 in Asia…” rankings may bring in the traveling business types or hungry-for-Facebook fodder tourists, they’re not necessarily building the loyal patron base required to survive in the high-turnover, here-one-day-gone-the-next Hong Kong culinary scene.

Speaking from her personal experience, Babins relayed the quick rise of RŌNIN, where tables were full despite no heed being given to conventional marketing measures, media exposure and, most of all, maneuvering through the politics inherent in rankings.

Photo: Coconuts Media

Fresh from Googling “What is Michelin guide to fine Cantonese food”, Tang expressed his bewilderment (and disapproval) over the fact that the general public, which usually takes these rankings on face value, jumps on the hype train towards selected restaurants despite the lack of transparency in the judging process that determines these lists. “Who are they to tell me where the best Cantonese food in the world is?”, he asked.

Forster, however, was quick to follow up with an explanation: “These guides in Asia are usually sponsored or funded by the local government or tourism board … They’re basically marketing products” — and she suggested that we treat them as such. Use these rankings as references, but there’s no need to give them too much clout if you are already very familiar with the cuisine or local dining scene in question.

Photo: Coconuts Media
Beer goggles, on snug by the end of the evening. Photo: Coconuts Media

Well, that’s the gist of it. We’re leaving the anecdotes and juiciest bits out of this here recap. We don’t kiss and tell.

Anyway, we’ll be having more of these Colloquiums and other boozy, non-boring get-togethers, kicking off in early 2019 — sign-up to our COCO+ membership program to stay updated and join us at all Coconuts events across the region, free of charge. That’s on top of unlimited access to articles and story archives across all 8 of our cities, too. And member giveaways. We do a lot of those.

Catch you later, Coconauts.

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