Step inside the three restaurants at Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong: meet the three head chefs and discover the secrets behind offering excellence.
Sitting right on Hong Kong's bustling and iconic Victoria Harbour, the city's Four Seasons hotel can claim a remarkable first: it's the world's only property to boast eight Michelin stars under one roof - while there's every chance that the total could increase to nine when the next edition of the Hong Kong guide is released in December.
The property only opened back in 2005, so its culinary rise has been particularly impressive. Today a total of 395 staff work across the hotel's restaurant outlets which include two restaurants with three Michelin stars, the Cantonese Lung King Heen and the French fine dining Caprice, with one two-starred restaurant in the form of the Japanese sushi specialist Sushi Saito.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STAFF
Alessandro Baccarelli, one of a number of Italians in senior culinary positions across the hotel, is Director of Food and Beverage. When asked about the secret to the hotel's success, he explains: "We are always searching for excellence, curious of new trends and aware of the competition we are facing. Communication is also very important, we need to know that what we are offering aligns with our belief to offer excellence."
He suggests that much of the drive comes from staff morale and the critical importance of that hard-to-define X factor, namely passion, allied with the opportunity to grow and learn: "We value the connection we form with our colleagues, if they work in a happy place, they can offer impeccable service because they have passion for what they do. We also celebrate the success of industry chefs and bartenders, inviting them to be guest hosts. That is how we create a nurturing environment at Four Seasons, allowing our staff to learn from the best."
But with the title of the world's most Michelin awarded property must come considerable pressure and expectation from diners and guests: Baccarelli says: "Hong Kong guests have the most sophisticated palates when it comes to wining and dining. We not only benchmark ourselves with Michelin restaurants, but also new concepts that appear. We have strong and positive competition in the city and hence we need to make sure we deliver the best."
At the frontline of pressure are the chefs who have delivered the accolades. Born in France's Loire Valley, Guillaume Galliot's culinary resume has included The Tasting Room at Macau's City of Dreams, Crystal Marrakech in Morocco, Raffles Hotels in Beijing and Singapore, a stint at François Plantation in Saint Barthélemy and formative years at the three Michelin-starred Jardin des Sens, in Montpellier.
It was there in southwest France, working under twin brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, that he honed his skills and learnt the lighter touches of the Mediterranean, as well as an immersion in the art of patisserie. Then, at just 23, he became the youngest sous-chef in the history of Singapore's iconic Raffles Hotel. Today he oversees service in the elegant dining room with its crystal chandeliers and harbour views striking enough to distract - temporarily - from the plates in front of you.
"I think the Michelin Guide is the biggest recognition for every chef and it keeps me on my toes. It’s a reference for me and also a pleasure and target to achieve. I wanted to achieve three stars, me and my team all worked hard for it. We concentrated very hard and it’s like a commonly shared spirit because you can’t achieve the star if only two people have the drive to achieve it - but the rest of the team doesn’t."
In common with most Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong, the world's finest produce is regularly flown in: "With three Michelin stars now, we want to keep the quality consistent and we care about where our ingredients are sourced so we have produce flown in from France four times a week and from Japan, five times a week."
His cuisine, although undeniably French, never forgets where he is based: "My cuisine feels natural to me and not forced. I don’t feel like I need to add something to make it look more Asian. When we do a ginger bouillon it’s natural, but really Cantonese style, where it’s light, pleasant, and elegant. That’s what I feel is Cantonese food and I try to reproduce this, but as a French chef. For example, Crab Laksa with Confit Egg, Leeks, Coriander, Hazelnut and Sudachi Lime was a dish I created for the Michelin Gala. It also means a lot to me because my wife is Singaporean."
LUNG KING HEEN
Just a few steps away at Lung King Heen, which translates as 'View of the dragon', Hong Kong born and bred chef Chan Yan Tak brings with him more than half a century of experience working in the finest Cantonese cuisine. As with many elder statesmen Chinese chefs, he started working in kitchens very young, at the age of just thirteen. In 2008 he became the first Chinese chef in history to be awarded three Michelin stars.
He has lived his whole life in Hong Kong, calling it “an incredibly exciting place to be a chef", one with a distinct sense of community: “When I go to the wet market to buy some fish or vegetables, I know that I will always see the same faces and be served by the same people who’ve worked there for 20 or 30 years.”
The same can be said of his team, who he modestly credits for his success: "Most of my staff has worked with me for over a decade, some even for thirty years, so the connection we have is irreplaceable. I am humbled by the Michelin recognition and the success belongs to my service and kitchen team."
The final two of the eight Michelin stars belong to Sushi Saito, which they were awarded within just a few months of opening in 2018. Impeccable produce comes daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji market and is beautifully crafted in the first restaurant outside Japan for famed three Michelin-starred Chef Takashi Saito. With incredibly exacting standards, all the ingredients in Hong Kong are the same as those used in Tokyo. Lunch and dinner doesn't come cheap, though, with the dinner omakase (chef's selection) costing a very substantial equivalent of 400 euros per person.
Of course there's also a chance that the Hong Kong Sushi Saito will match its Tokyo equivalent with a third star, potentially making for a total of nine across the hotel.
Alessandro Baccarelli is coy about this and future plans on the F&B front at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, saying only that "We are planning a renovation at our restaurant outlets next year, details will be unfolded nearer the date."
One thing is for sure, namely that the pressure is on to retain their unique status - and maybe even surpass it.