Cover Chef Jowett Yu

Chef Jowett Yu recalls the personalities he’s cooked for, from rock stars to Hollywood celebrities, and highlights his favourite Cantonese food and where in Hong Kong he would go for it

Hong Kong is clearly a place very close to this chef’s heart. In 2014, Jowett Yu made Hong Kong his home when he took on the executive chef position at Ho Lee Fook. Over the subsequent seven years he spent here, he grew to love the place, particularly the “breadth and diversity” of Hong Kong’s Chinese food and the “dynamic and vibrant dining scene that is an essential part of the city’s social fabric” he says.

During his time at the helm of Ho Lee Fook, Yu brought the restaurant to the forefront of the city’s scene. His modern spin on Cantonese cuisine, which was complemented by the restaurant’s funky interiors, attracted a loyal clientele that was constantly clamouring for tables at the no-reservations Soho hotspot. Local residents and overseas visitors alike frequented the restaurant, and some of Yu’s standout memories from his time in the Ho Lee Fook kitchen involve the many guests he served. “I cooked for a lot of famous people and famous chefs, like Matt Damon, Metallica, Ferran Adrià, Alain Ducasse to name a few. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought some of these people would come to eat my cooking,” says Yu.

Departing Hong Kong in July last year for Australia, the place where the Taiwanese chef began his career working at Asian eateries including Ms. G’s and Mr. Wong, Yu is currently based in Sydney and is involved in various projects for hospitality group Merivale, which operates a wide range of restaurants, bars and hotels across the city. Happy to reminisce about his time in Hong Kong, Yu shared some of his highlights when it comes to eating and drinking his way through the city.

Related: Ho Lee Fook Reopens With New Head Chef ArChan Chan

What do you miss most on the food/drink front from Hong Kong? 

I miss Cantonese restaurants, especially the siu mei places. Once you have lived in Hong Kong the poultry you get anywhere else just isn’t the same. I miss roast goose and local 3 yellow chicken the most. I also miss the access to wines Hong Kong enjoys. I find it really expensive and difficult to get some Old World wines in Australia due to high tariffs and allocation.  

What would be the first dish you eat when you return and where would you go for it?

Very likely a plate of roast goose and char siu at Yat Lok with a side of ice lemon tea.  

Related: Vicky Cheng On The Joys Of Local Seafood

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong? For fine dining and for more casual experiences?  

The Chairman remains the beacon of light of Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong, if not the world. I think The Chairman has become a benchmark in offering Cantonese food that is uniquely Hong Kong and looks to the future without losing sight of the heritage.  

If you had friends/family/guests to visit, where would you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?

No eating trip to Hong Kong can be complete without eating at a dai pai dong in Sham Shui Po. When you are sitting on the sidewalk, ordering clams in black bean sauce cooked road side from high-power woks, with a long neck of blue girl beer, on a hot summer evening as workers sit around in Beijing bikinis—the totality of this sensory experience puts you in a time and place that can be none other than Hong Kong.  

Related: How Hong Kong's The Chairman Restaurant Redefines Chinese Fine Dining

Where did/would you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?

If I was looking for mischief, the place I’d find myself going time and time again is Yardbird. The best local chicken skewers, the best char flavour when it's right off the grill, with an ice cold whiskey highball, all shared with friends visiting from overseas. I miss this a lot. I have been going to Yardbird since I arrived in Hong Kong and over the years the team became my Hong Kong family. In retrospect, Yardbird basically became an extension of my living room.  

Do you have a favourite bar in Hong Kong?

La Cabane was just around the corner from where I worked and we’d go there after service for a glass of wine and a cheese plate. I love their wine list and cellar and that’s where I learned a lot about natural wines.

Related: Wine Crush: What Is Pét-Nat And Why Should You Be Drinking It?

Is there anywhere else that you wouldn’t miss visiting when you are back?

A hike up to the Peak is essential. The city skyline never ceases to amaze me as you see how astonishingly vertical the city is. No other city in the world looks like Hong Kong visually. I miss the hiking in Hong Kong and the variety of terrains it offers. You are never more than half an hour away from the entry point of a nearby hike wherever you live and people tend to overlook this fact.  

What would you take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?

Memories.  

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of Hong Kong where you currently live in Sydney?

Sydney Chinatown has been going through a lot of changes and since the pandemic a lot of businesses have shuttered. I try to go and support the businesses there as much as I can, because losing a living Chinatown would be a huge loss to the city’s history and diversity. 

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