Where do the notable chefs and bartenders of Hong Kong’s F&B scene like to eat when they’re not cooking? What is their best home-cooked meal? Cheat Day goes behind the scenes with the city’s culinarians and tastemakers to find out exactly what their personal favourites are during their days off.
For the larger part of society, like me and you, there’s a usual expected timeline of career progression. Then, there are the exceptions — the superstar athletes; Michelin star chefs — where time is much tighter, schedules more vigorous than a performance review set for the end of the year. As Salisterra’s new executive chef Cary Docherty will tell you, age 25 is already considered a late start. Especially in comparison to others who began cooking much younger.
It hasn’t discouraged Docherty though, who, after graduating from The Art Institute of New York City some 20 years ago, found a passion in the kitchen when searching for options to stay in New York, where his now-wife, Jennifer, was based.
From there, enthralled by an intriguing new world, he wove his way through an international resume of star-studded kitchens — London’s one-starred Maze and three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey — while working shoulder-to-shoulder with some widely respected names: Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth and Jason Atherson.
Back on local soil where Docherty moved to around four years ago, the charismatic chef is a friendly face from the now-shuttered modern British destination, Gough on Gough, and more recently, Island Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar and Grill.
“My first fine-dining experience was in NYC as a student.” Docherty shares. “I was sitting down for dinner at Le Bernardin, and it completely changed my life.”
“I’m inspired by my mother, she loved trying different cuisines, so I was exposed to a variety of cuisines from a very young age,” he continues. “Also my wife and her father. Jennifer’s love of good food and her dad’s love of cooking for the family were a very big influence on me.”
Naturally, Docherty’s cooking comes with a familiar sense of comfort. But that’s not implying causal, because while his dining experience is geared towards the relaxed and unpretentious, it’s presented through an elegance in flavours and techniques that only an experienced chef could master. His dishes are ones endlessly loved and recreated with a distinct Docherty’s trademark that continually manages to feel anew. “I’m never going to reinvent the wheel, I always like to cook the classic dishes,” he adds.
At Salisterra, the sky-high Mediterranean dining room is refreshed with a more seafood-centric focus. It’s a menu that’s different to what Docherty is previously used to, having a firmer grasp on British cuisine. But he insists on keeping his culinary philosophy by adopting to the seasons, ensuring fresh premium produce, and remaining honest to a fundamentally Southern French, Spanish and Italian profile of light, bright flavours on colourfully inviting plates. Some not to be missed mention include the Plateau de Fruits de Mer, a platter of the season’s best seafood; Stracciatella di bufala, a summer-friendly salad of minted peas and fresh baby broad beans with lemon zest; and Docherty’s personal pick: Rum Baba dessert.
It also includes personal blueprints of Docherty’s journey thus far, namely the Crab Salad, a dish that has evolved with chef since his early days at Little Social in London. There’s always one at every restaurant he cooks at, and Salisterra, the latest rendition, is a slightly tweaked creation of an exquisite whole dressed crab filled with a verdant bed of romain lettuce, avocado, tomato jelly and brioche croûtons within.
“It’s all about freshness in Mediterranean cuisine, there’s a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients with minimal consumption on processed foods. Lots of fruits, veggies, grains and herbs as well as fish, a bit of meat and olive oil. These are the essential components of the Mediterranean dining scene.”
He might have begun the arduous path of a chef a little later, but Docherty, still today, is consciously yearning for lessons in growth. From the kitchen, it’s from his talented team. From Hong Kong, the Cantonese cuisine’s complicated manoeuvre of tossing a roaring wok.
Cheat Day with Cary Docherty:
What was the last meal you had?
The last meal I had was a delivery from Shake Shack on my day off yesterday. It was delicious!
What does being a chef mean to you?
To me being a chef is so many things. I’m forever a student, always a teacher, an accountant, a businessman, a repairman, a negotiator, a psychiatrist, a mentor, a friend, a disciplinarian, and a cook. I’m a steward of the next generation, which is a huge responsibility, and it’s my duty to share with the team what I have picked up along the way.
Most of all, being a chef means having the ability to impact all of our guests experience during the time they’re with us, the ability to to make people happy is the single greatest gift this job bestows on you.
What was the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
“Give the people what they want”. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some of the best chefs in the UK including Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton and Clare Smyth. There are a lot of key things I learned from all of them but one thing that all of them were always insistent on was giving the people what they want.
A lot of chefs don’t like to give people a steak well done, they’ll try to educate guests. I’ve never been that way, when a guest walks through the door and has decided to spend their hard earned money in the establishment that I’m cooking in, the team and I will happily oblige any request as long as it’s within the realm of possibility. It’s our duty as chefs.
Tell me some of your signature dishes/ creations?
In my humble opinion, a signature dish comes to fruition over time organically and is chosen by the guests. We’re lucky enough to cook for them. It’s not something you can always predict or choose.
The Plateau de Fruits de Mer, the Crab Salad and the Lamb dish here at salisterra have all kind of become “signature dishes”. In the case of the lamb I almost removed it from the menu right before the relaunch of Salisterra, low and behold it is now by far one of our most popular dishes.
Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen?
I’d like to think that I’m fair. I demand a lot from the team and have high expectations. In return I invest a lot of my personal time engaging with the team in a very personal level, which is perhaps a little unusual. I literally care about each team member and place a huge importance on their happiness in and out of the workplace.
I am an open book, and I tell it how it is, value upfront open and honest communication above all else. I am very loyal, and open minded. Every day I step into the workplace, I strive to improve. One of the best things about being a chef is that you’re always a work in progress, and we are always learning and improving.
Your favourite local Hong Kong ingredients to use?
My favourite local ingredients to use include Shrimp Paste, Soy Sauce, and Chicken. We try to buy local whenever we can!
Do you cook at home? If so, what is your go-to home-cooked dish?
Jennifer definitely does most of the cooking at home, I’m blessed because she’s a phenomenal cook, I always tell her she should open a restaurant. If and when I cook at home, it’s usually breakfast for Jennifer. Other than that, it’s quick, simple pasta dishes or grilling vegetables on the BBQ. Nothing better than grilled vegetables top quality olive oil and salt.
You have 30 minutes. What will you make?
Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Pepperoncini.
Name the top three favourite ingredients/condiments you currently own in your pantry.
Parmesan Cheese, Herbs, and Citrus.
What are your guilty pleasures?
So many, where do I start? Chocolate, ice cream, burgers, cheese……
The best meal you ever had?
My favourite meals are always based on the setting and the company. I can humbly say that in this life, I’ve been fortunate to eat in many of the world’s best restaurants. Although what they do is exceptional and impossible to replicate, I will take a home-cooked meal with family, friends, and the people I hold most dear to my heart over anything else. The older I get, the more importance I place on the precious moments.
What was your most memorable food moment?
My most memorable food moments are definitely those that were spent cooking for my sister when she was close to the end of her life. At the start of COVID, I flew back to Canada with Jennifer and moved into my sister Ashley’s house with her, her husband Ben, my mom, and Jennifer. We were there to help Ashley in the last few months of her life. My primary role during this time was to cook for all of us. Those meals will never leave me.
What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without?
One snack food I cannot live without is chocolate. I have a serious weakness for all things chocolate.
Savoury or sweet?
Where do you like to go on your day off?
On days off, I like to eat out. We are so spoiled with choices here in Hong Kong. With so much talent cooking so many cuisines, we can have the best of so many cooking styles within 30 minutes of one another.
I’ve lived here for almost 4 years and dine out every week, and I’m still not even close to ticking all the boxes on my wish list of restaurants. Hong Kong’s dining scene is insane!
The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong?
- Pork Chop Rice, Hop Sze Restaurant
- Char Siu, The Chairman
- Dim Sum, Forum Restaurant
- Steamed Thread Fin, Wing
- Peking Duck, Yan Toh Heen
Something you want to try while in Hong Kong?
I would absolutely love to get the chance to learn some of what it takes to cook on a wok. I know this takes years and years to master, but the opportunity to learn a little would be amazing.
Salisterra, Level 49, The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88, Queensway, Admiralty, +852 3968 1106