Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date.
Chef-restaurateur Peggy Chan needs little introduction. As Hong Kong’s leading advocate of clean eating and vegetarianism, Chan’s vision has spearheaded a movement around the city towards clean, organic food products; minimal kitchen waste; and conscious consumption — both for the food chefs choose to cook and the food we choose to eat. In addition to practising what she preaches in her own kitchen — where she churns out some of the tastiest vegetarian cooking in Hong Kong, we might add — Chan is a prolific public speaker, frequent panelist at sustainability forums, and an advocate for the welfare of the restaurant community at large.
After seven years of running one of Hong Kong’s most successful vegetarian restaurants, Grassroots Pantry, Chan recently shuttered her first flagship, transforming the bright and airy Hollywood Road space into an upscale tasting-menu restaurant called Nectar. Here, her commitment to ethical eating has been pushed to the next level: from the furniture reclaimed from wood salvaged locally by Chan herself, to the brilliant, all-vegan menu in which her intuitive pairings and playful culinary spirit radiate in dishes such as bak kut teh with truffle wonton, zero-waste banana sponge, and purslane fettucine with ‘faux gras’.
Chan’s bubbly personality, passion for her cause, and irrefutable cooking chops make her one of the shining lights of the Hong Kong food community. In our signature 27 Questions below, we get to know Chan a bit better as she reveals her biggest guilty pleasure, her hidden tattoos, and what her encounter was like with His Holiness himself, The Dalai Lama.
Name: Peggy Chan
Neighbourhood: Kowloon Tong / Sheung Wan
Occupation: Chef-Restaurateur & Social Entrepreneur, Grassroots Initiatives
1. What is your life motto?
Festina lente, or hasten slowly. A paradoxical statement that makes true sense of the word as heard from the childhood Aesop fable The Tortoise and The Hare. Humans are guided by spirit animals and mine happens to be the tortoise. Whatever one must do, at least do so with 110% effort, care and attention, rather than hurry through what isn’t important.
2. What was your first job?
Starbucks PT Barista, year 2000 at the HK flagship store.
3. What is your drink of choice?
If I’m feeling healthy, lemon alkaline water with a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to boost electrolytes; otherwise for winding down, a natural funky red wine.
4. When was the last time you drove a car?
March of 2018 to Byron Bay Bluesfest.
5. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
My bookcase(s), all of my vintage furnitures and a generous collection of late-1800s china.
6. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Morning. Although if I don’t get to bed by 11pm, I’ll be able to stay up to 3am working.
7. Which phone app do you use that you think more people should know about?
Genius Scan. Don’t people need to scan stuff, always?
8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A macro bowl of broccolini, seaweed, brown rice, tofu, green veggies and tahini miso dressing.
9. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
How expensive it is for people to move here and work here. We lose a lot of young talents in hospitality because of this.
10. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
Iceland, where the Northern Lights can be seen.
11. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Not nearly enough. 90 percent of my meals are eaten at work, standing. I love it when I get to eat home-cooked food prepared by somebody else.
12. What is your greatest fear?
That I would be physically incapable to work in kitchens anymore.
13. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
It has to be French pastries. A hazelnut Paris Brest, a Bakehouse croissant, or a proper coffee eclair. Yes.
14. What is your typical Sunday like?
Just like everybody else’s Wednesday.
15. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
Summer of 2011 at Namgyal Temple, Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala. The moment His Holiness The Dalai Lama entered the temple for a 2-day workshop/meditation that I was grateful to be a part of and a moment that catalysed the rest of my outlook on life.
16. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
The ability to think quick and improvise.
17. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
Alice Waters, Jane Goodall, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Bernie Sanders, and my mentor/guardian angel, Mr. Carryl Potter.
18. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
“Heart of Gold” by Neil Young.
19. If you could banish someone from Hong Kong forever, who would it be?
I’d banish the systems headed by people who don’t represent the people.
20. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
The steam room at Landmark Mandarin Oriental.
21. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?
22. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Chinese New Year, wrapping fried peanut dumplings and cooking up a feast with the family.
23. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
Mirepoix sweating on a pan, fresh baked bread and frankincense essential oil.
24. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
The best teachers are often those who oppose of you. The most important lessons learnt are to recognise those characters and what not to become. Ever.
25. Do you have a catch phrase?
“Do you love it?”
26. Do you have any favourite tattoos or special birthmarks? What is it?
The lotuses on my shoulders. The lotus is a resilient plant. Beauty is often hidden beneath dirt. It only takes a bit of sunshine to let it reveal itself.
27. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life?
Alone. So I can create in silence and without distraction.