Would you say much of what you learned in your apprenticeship still follows you to this day?
Cooking has gone through many transitions in the last 20 years; it has come a long way. I think my food is grounded from those early lessons in terms of using classic processes and techniques and a great approach to flavour profiling. Some of those early lessons are very much about discipline, such as learning to make a basic stock – I think that’s important. Many young chefs forget about all the hard, basic lessons and go straight to molecular. You know, you can’t run before you walk. I believe that great chefs always have those fundamentals in their training. They are the core of a great kitchen. But to answer your question, yes, those lessons still are still there, but with 20 years of evolution.
You’ve opened a number of restaurants in Shanghai. What made you decide it was time to set up shop in Hong Kong?
It just made sense. I’ve been in China for 10 years and when I wanted to do something outside of China, Hong Kong was just an obvious choice. There’s a very sophisticated dining scene here.
How do the two cities compare in terms of dining?
It’s a whole other world here; Shanghai and Beijing are dynamic and there’s a lot going but Hong Kong has had a lot more time to become a dining scene. It has an open food port where you can get any product you want. I suppose China makes you think a lot more because you have to be more creative in working with what’s readily available. In Hong Kong, I had to force myself to stop writing dishes on the menu because there were no limits to what I could make. I was like a kid in a candy store.
So where do you source produce for LARIS?
All over. We’re getting a lot of produce from Australia, US, Canada and Europe, and if I find some great local stuff I’ll definitely use that as well. Right now we’ve got kingfish from Australia and we’re using lobster from Canada because it’s the right time of year and the water is the right temperature there. Even though I’m an Australian chef, I come from a background that’s very international and I want to use the best products I can find.
Will you be changing your menu seasonally?
Every three months I’ll be coming down to personally change the menu and I’ll be spending as much time in Hong Kong as I can. I’m even thinking of getting a permanent place here because I want to be really involved with the restaurant. I will also be staying in touch regularly with Serge, our chef who I’ve brought down from Shanghai.
Did Serge work with you at the original LARIS?
No, actually, Serge was doing some work at my fine dining concept 12 Chairs in Shanghai. He hasn’t worked with me for long, but I felt like he had the right temperament. He was the right kind of guy, from a culinary approach, to complement what I’m trying to do here in Hong Kong. I think he’s a great guy and doing a great job. Everyone has been working super hard for the last month.
There have been a lot of celebrity chefs opening restaurants in Hong Kong that end up flopping due to the chef not actually being there or restaurant groups who just use a chef’s name for branding. How do you plan to maintain the quality and integrity of LARIS?
One of the first things I said to Dining Concepts is that’s not the way it works with me. I’m going to be very involved all the way through from the graphic package and logo, the layout of our menus, the mood and the vibe of the restaurant, table setting, choice of glassware – I’ve been involved in every one of those processes for LARIS. It is my namesake and it’s a restaurant that has a great legacy already. I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who says, “Here’s my name. I’ll see you three days before the opening!”
What is the feeling you want people to walk away with when they come to eat at your new restaurant? I want to create a certain elegance; I don’t want it to be pretentious, but I want it to be grounded in great cooking. I want to set the tone where customers can come and spend as much or as little as you want and still feel comfortable around whoever is sitting on the table next to you. It’s about that laid-back Australian spirit and energy and letting the food, service and wine speak for itself.
Australia’s dining scene is on fire - any desire to open something back home?
I’ve thought about it a lot, the dining scene is fantastic in Australia – particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, they’re kicking ass. Every time I’m back in Sydney I’m tempted to do it, but at the moment I’m still focused on Asia. It’s just hard to make money in Australia, even for the top chefs. I won’t name names but I know some celebrity chefs who are on TV all the time whose restaurants are full but breaking even at best! With the cost of rents, payroll, cost of goods, there needs to be some reforms as to the way the industry approaches itself in order for it to survive. There’s a lot of stuff not making it that deserves to; I think all that has crippled the fine dining scene to some degree. Casual dining in Australia is vibrant though, so if I were to do something back home I’d probably go down that road.
Published on Apr 17, 2013