There is never a dull moment in Hong Kong’s dining scene. But what Vincent Mui realised was as vivacious as the F&B world is, and there was a hole in the industry he wanted to fill. So in 2015, the entrepreneur opened up Test Kitchen – a concept that literally brought the most talented culinary influencers right into the heart of the city. Though only open for a few short years, his establishment has become one of the most watched (and booked) by foodies locally and abroad. With the likes of critically acclaimed chefs such as celebrity chef and Top Chef contender Kwame Onwuachi (USA), Ray Adriansyah of Locavore (Indonesia), Ben Spalding of The Fat Duck (United Kingdom), Andrew Walsh of Cure (Singapore), to upcoming pop-up crossover with Pablo Lagrange from Argentina, Test Kitchen has been the place to experience and experiment with international cuisines. We chat with Vincent to find out more about the business, along with his triumphs and challenges.
Name: Vincent Mui
Industry: Food & Beverage, specifically pop-ups and events
Start up since: March 2015
Company size: Small
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
Test Kitchen is a unique dining movement that invites chefs around the world (and occasionally from within Hong Kong) to cook the food they love and share their stories in four of five night pop-up dinners, usually running twice a month. Hong Kong diners are knowledgeable and open-minded about new tastes and experiences; they want to get to know our chefs and understand what drives them and their food.
Our beautiful two-storey street-level shop is located in Sai Ying Pun where we host our pop-up dinners. We also curate private events, including anything from sit-down dinners to cocktail parties. A new sector we are recently focusing on is Catering. We want to extend our culinary team to showcase their brilliant work outside the four walls of Test Kitchen.
Tell me about your best and worst day at work?
My best day at work is when both the guests and our team are really happy with how the event turned out. That can be nailing the dinner service on the first night of the pop-up to finishing a private dinner or catering event where we’ve surpassed all our clients’ expectations.
My worst day at work is when the unexpected happens — a stove breaks down or the oven doesn’t quite work — you need to scramble to get things resolved immediately.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I love to drive and every weekend I go out for a spin with my friends, come rain or shine. When I drive, there’s nothing on my mind other than the steering wheel, the 3 pedals, the shifter and the next corner.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
I actually have no regrets! I’m one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason. So whether they are mistakes or good decisions, there’s always something to take from it. What matters most is that you are better than you were yesterday.
What is a normal work day like?
Every day I take 30 minutes to think and strategise about what I need to do for the day ahead… and then I get on with it! There are so many elements, everything from liaising with new chefs we’re bringing in to cook or dealing with local producers, to working on or finessing private events, or arranging wine pairings that will accompany our menus. There’s never a quiet moment!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
Follow your heart, and don’t be afraid of the unknown. My experience has shown that we all come across many different perspectives throughout our journey, and they can all teach us something.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?
I’d likely be working in a regular full-service restaurant. I think my love for this industry will always mean I’m in a place where good food is served and I am empowered to make guests feel good.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
I always wanted to become a race car driver. Maybe one day I’ll be in the position to go racing and build a team from scratch!
What has been your biggest hurdle?
Striking a balance between pushing the culinary boundaries to meeting diners’ expectation, with culinary teams coming over to Test Kitchen from all around the world.
How did you overcome it?
Through time and maintaining a constant conversation between guests and chefs.
Why Hong Kong?
I’m born and raised in Hong Kong, my closest family is here, and this is my home. Hong Kong is also obviously an international city and a melting pot of all cuisines. I love how you can get a bowl of beef brisket noodles in a 60 year-old establishment, then go right next door to a hip coffee shop that could literally be straight out of Melbourne.
If you were to invest in another start up, which would it be?
Technology. I’m the least tech guy going, but I’m fascinated by what it can do, and what it does for the world. It’d be great to be part of it and learn their business and trade by investment.
How hands-on are you?
Very — and I love it. Especially the push during dinner service, the buzz of working with everyone, creating an event, be it a popup dinner series with an overseas team, a private dinner party for 10 or catering a wedding for 200 guests.
What are your goals for 2020? And in the near future?
To expand Test Kitchen’s private events and catering sector, while continuing to invite brilliant international and local chefs to our kitchen, as well as find a way to contribute more to Hong Kong society.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself being successful?
To be a good husband, father and son. To create a business that I can pour my love into that is both profitable and benefiting those who are involved — and hopefully being able to inspire a few people along the journey.