Tell us about yourself.
I grew up all over the world — I’m half-Chinese, half-English, was born in Taipei and lived in 18 countries before my mid 20s. Food has always played a significant part of my life. Living abroad and moving around the world meant limited time with family, so the concept of sharing a family meal was really important when we could be together — these are some of my fondest memories. I also grew up spending time with both my Chinese and English grandparents and was heavily inspired by both.
What’s one thing not a lot of people know about you?
I was terrified of heights as a kid, so I turned to vertical sports to confront my fears.
Did you always want to be a restaurateur?
I was exposed to lots of international cuisines by moving around the world from a young age. My grandmother, who lived next door to my school in Taiwan, was an excellent cook and would always be at home cooking wonderful Taiwanese food. My granddad, who was British, introduced me to classic Western cooking and also educated me about sourcing and the importance of knowing where your food came from. So, even if I didn’t intend to become a restaurateur, my family imparted on me a great deal of knowledge about food and nature, so I think this is where my passion came from.
What was your first big break?
I met my lifelong business partner Matt Reid at university in England — we’ve been best friends and business partners for more than 20 years and I still think it’s remarkable that we haven’t had one fight in the whole time. We were opening restaurants around the world gaining experience but the business really took off when we made Hong Kong the home base for our activities and we founded Maximal Concepts. I think the biggest break however was when we opened Mott 32, which is now an international franchise and the first luxury Chinese restaurant to be franchised from East to West.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career?
Obviously, this year of difficulties created by Covid-19 has been one of the biggest challenges of my career. All business owners — certainly restaurateurs — have been faced with problems they never expected to face. It’s been incredibly tough to contend with, and we’ve had to make difficult decisions to weather the storm.
Who do you look up to and why?
My mother and father. My dad was a physicist, so precision in details was paramount and it’s become key to how I handle my businesses around the world. Along with my grandmother and grandfather, my mother is the reason I became interested in food, not only because she’s a fantastic cook but she also taught me her incredible work ethic and how to be a successful businessman. She won a businesswoman of the year award in the 1970s, when it was very difficult for women to be recognised in that realm and she’s one of the best entrepreneurs I know.
What does it take to succeed in this line of work?
Any business, but especially in restaurant sector, is a hundred moving parts coming together. I think to be truly a good entrepreneur you have to be a good marketer, accountant, lawyer and manager — in short, a good all-rounder.
What are you most proud of?
My kids are what I’m most proud of but professionally, sustainability and more recently climate change awareness has always been a great passion of mine and we’ve tried our hardest to push this message across our businesses. Last year, I received the honour of being named one of UN Environment’s Mountain Heroes as a para-alpinist, entrepreneur and filmmaker, as part of a global campaign involving six top athletes around the world who are advocates for climate change & sustainability.
This came from the work that I’ve done in the restaurant and film space around driving awareness in Asia for both topics and my recent project, The Last Glaciers. An environmental documentary that we’re releasing soon, it will be the most comprehensive film shot on climate change in the mountains and glaciers.
What can we look forward to from you in the next 12 months?
Besides the exciting line-up of new Mott 32 venues opening across the world, we’re also working hard on our next Hong Kong project, which will be in partnership with Mandarin Oriental. We’ll be opening a late-night, eccentric Japanese izakaya on the 25th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong called The Aubrey, early year.