With Covid 19 restaurant restrictions still in place, Hongkongers are at least revelling at the availability of take-home high-end food and snacks, such as cream-covered pandan cake sold at Helen Ma’s new Manna Market pop-up at Lane Crawford, ifc mall.
Previously known in high society circles as a fashionista and beauty queen who introduced the French-influenced Japanese luxury brand EviDenS de Beaute to Hong Kong, Ma recently made the switch to food and beverage at a time when the industry has taken a huge hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. Against all odds, Ma’s Manna Market pop-up has seen her fancy cakes flying off the shelves daily.
Starting out as a silent partner in the company in 2003, Ma gradually became more involved in the business in 2017 with her business partner Quentin Chiu, whom she met while studying in the US.
“If not for Quentin, I wouldn’t have become so involved in Manna. He truly believed in the future of the business. Back then I had no interest; I was doing beauty and fashion and I didn’t want to be involved,” says Ma. But as she became more involved, her interest was piqued: “It happened very naturally,” she says. Manna initially started out as a concierge service similar to American Express’ black card – booking restaurants for clients – but a client asked one day if we did catering as well and that’s how the business started.
“I’m not a chef but I love cooking, especially making soup,” says Ma. “I love following recipes.” Although Manna is primarily a catering company, working with brands such as Prada, Versace, UBS and Swire Properties, Ma felt that the company needed more online elements so that even when brands weren’t doing events, the company could remain profitable – a decision that proved to be spot on.
At its beautifully laid out concept at Lane Crawford, Manna Market features a selection of premium ready-to-eat items such as 48-hour sous videshort ribs, braised Shanghainese pork knuckle, drunken chicken, and abalone. The sweet offerings include banoffee pie, a variety of canelés and a selection of artisanal chocolates. The food is prepared at their central kitchen in Wong Chuk Hang and delivered fresh to the Lane Crawford pop-up every day. “I wanted to make premium food very easy to make at home even for someone who doesn’t know how to cook,” says Ma. “Our mission is for us to have ready-to-go food that is healthy and delicious and simple to make for people to take home and enjoy.”
Ma also agrees when asked if there are similarities between the food and fashion industries. “Absolutely. Many of our customers are in fashion, and both industries rely on the story behind the operation and, more importantly, the presentation.” Her favourite dishes to indulge in on a regular basis are kale salad and refreshing appetisers like langoustine and Hamachi sashimi. “I drink apple cider vinegar with lemon and cinnamon daily and in the afternoon I load up on fibre and have at least one protein.” Manna Market’s pop-up will be at Lane Crawford until September 9.