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Cheat Day: Martín Carrasco, chef de cuisine of Sunset Grill

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 favourite 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 a chef, inspiration comes from many places. A particular flavour from memory; a surreptitious encounter with a rare ingredient from foreign lands. For Catalan-born Martín Carrasco, it’s the familiar, everyday dish of Spanish paella. He learnt to make it for family gatherings with his mother — whom he credits for being the very first inspiration on his journey to becoming a chef — and now, a father himself, Carrasco admits the sizzling paella is go-to when whipping up quick-and-easy meals at home for his wife and son — and the guests at Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung hotel’s Sunset Grill, where Carrasco currently leads as chef de cuisine.

cheat day sunset grill martin carresco
Chef de Cuisine Martín Carrasco of Sunset Grill

“Being a chef means happiness,” says Carrasco. “Different people have inspired me during my career. The first was my mum, then icons of Spanish cuisine: Ferran Adrià, Martin Berasategui and Juan Mari Arzak. Nowadays, I am inspired by my team, my colleagues and F&B friends; they still find passionate ways to deliver their cooking and it makes me see what we all love to do.”

For the city’s Spanish food-loving crowds, Carrasco may come as a familiar face, having previously slung Spanish tapas at restaurants QUEMO, Pica Pica, Rubia and cool-kids lounge, Cassio. At his current post at Sunset Grill, far far away in Lantau Island’s Tung Chung, the Vilafranca del Penedés-native leaves behind the raucous night-life noise of SoHo for a quieter pace of comfort, family-style home-cooking that while keeps to classic Catalan cooking, still manages to renew flavours that will excite the discernible Hong Kong diner.

Fortunately, Carrasco is not just your average trained chef, the CETT (reputed School of Tourism, Hospitality and Gastronomy in Barcelona) graduate is also a trained pastry chef, having completed his studies at Espai Sucre, the world’s first pastry school with its own dedicated dessert restaurant. And then, a whirlwind scatter of experiences through Europe followed, where Carrasco hones his classic French and European-style cooking, from one-Michelin star Neichel with Jean-Louis Neichel, Via Vento, recipient of the oldest Michelin star, with Carles Tejedor and with Jordi Vilà of one-star Alkimia.

Because the people and experiences make for half the journey, Carrasco, having now refined a distinct cooking style of his own, doesn’t miss on an opportunity to show appreciation to the top chefs and restaurants he’s encountered thus far. From those great Spanish names he mentioned earlier, he credits a considered lesson in food transformation from Adrià; the art of precision and modern presentation from Berasategui; the importance in respecting traditional ingredients and flavours from Arzak; and from Vilà, the exacting ability to merge traditional and modern techniques which he gracefully showcases in his cooking today.

“I come from a culture where we use a lot of fresh, high-quality ingredients and create very rich flavours,” says Carrasco.

“My dad used to say, ‘Enjoy what you do, because to be a chef is for life,'” he adds. “He told me I chose one of the hardest professions, and thought I wouldn’t have time to properly enjoy life. But my life is cooking, being in the kitchen.”

cheat day sunset grill martin carresco
Juicy Seafood Rice with Whole De-Shelled Boston Lobster & Black Ink Aioli (HK$388) and “Sergovian” Spanish Suckling Pig Leg (HK$598)

Should you decide to make the trek to Tung Chung to visit Carrasco’s picturesque new home, come for the refreshing take on familiar dishes — there’s said to be a newly launched champagne brunch. The rooftop restaurant and bar makes room for new additions that continue Carrasco’s earnest approach to homey, hearty, European-style dishes with creative innovation, including a steak tartare made with bone marrow and home-made mustard cream and a charcoal-grilled cheesecake.

Then, stay for his signatures. Not counting those mentioned by Carrasco below, there’s the roasted “Segovian” Spanish suckling pig and of course, the paella. Served here with a whole de-shelled Boston lobster and black ink aioli.

And of course, it should go without saying, come at sunset.

Cheat Day with Martín Carrasco:

What was the last meal you had?

Gnocchi with Sobrasada and Gouda cheese.

Tell me some of your signature dishes/creations?

Signature dishes I love to make are steak tartare, Spanish-style rice paella, char-grilled pork shoulder or a nice bone-in ribeye. These are not my own creations, but my interpretations from past experiences. There are always chefs that you learn from and meals that make you dream. So you get to twist things to your own taste.

When you taste food from around the world, you get to train your palate. You learn from other cultures and food combinations. I twist recipes with my personal taste experiences driven by my feelings.

Chef Martin Carrasco reinterprets traditional Spanish Catalan dishes with modern flavours.
Kurobuta Pork Chop with Truffle Mashed Potato, part of the weekend Champagne Brunch (HK$888)

Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen?

I think working with me is challenging because I always try to get the best of everything. From the team I expect professionalism; from the food we cook, I need consistency and technique. From the clients, I want them to come to enjoy, not to challenge. I have different moods when I’m working, but I never get angry or lose my temper — I don’t believe that’s the right way to handle any kind of situation in life.

What’s your favourite local Hong Kong ingredients to use?

I love to use local honey from Lamma and Mui Wo. It gives a special flavour to my dressings, or works as a final touch on desserts.

I usually add honey to my pork ribs sauce. I believe that char-grilled and slow-cooked ribs can get an amazing deep taste thanks to the sweetness from the honey. For desserts, I love to use natural sweeteners like this — it helps them become a more complex and flavourful dish.

Do you cook at home? If so, what is your go-to home-cooked dish?

I do cook at home! I usually prepare huge salads with many ingredients, or some pasta or gnocchi with various sauces. I’m not crazy on recipe following, I just cook by taste and try to use what I have at home to reduce waste.

I try to cook healthy and not use too much oil. I mostly enjoy making comfort food that I can share with my wife and my son, like lasagne, Spanish omelette and paella, Spanish seafood rice.

You have 30 minutes. What will you make?

For summer, I will make a nice cold tomato soup Gazpacho, and a seafood paella with a simple base — I’d try to make a quick prawn stock with prawn heads and vegetables.

For winter, I will go for a nice mashed potato with lots of butter and a good piece of rare steak, garlic and herbs. Served together with a glass of wine!

cheat day sunset grill martin carresco
Sunset Grill features a selection fo 30-day dry-aged bone-in Stockyard Australian steaks, served with Banana Shallot, Baked Potato and Garlic. (from HK$900)

Name the top three favourite ingredients/condiments you currently own in your pantry.

  • Hokkaido scallops (sashimi grade) to do a nice refreshing ceviche
  • Sobrasada from Mallorca. I love the intense flavour and aroma once it is warm and melting
  • Spanish “Rubia Gallega” bone-in ribeye. For me, this is one of the best cattle in the world

What are your guilty pleasures?

Crispy and well done triple-fried fries with “Allioli” garlic mayonnaise. Chocolate and ice cream. These are my kryptonite that power me up! I will have either of these dishes whenever I’m taking a day off, but I try to go for a hike before enjoying them to feel less guilty.

The best meal you ever had?

I don’t mean to disappoint any other meals but the best one was at Alkimia, one Michelin star in Barcelona. It was at the beginning of my career. Everything surprised me, every bite and every texture. It was a full experience!

cheat day sunset grill martin carresco
Burrata with Heritage Cherry Tomato and 12 Year Old Modena Vinegar (HK$188), Hokkaido Scallop Ceviche with Paprika Popcorn, Jalapeño and Kaffir Lime (HK$218) and Strawberry Baba with Lemon Tea Sorbet (HK$90)

What was your most memorable food moment?

Enjoying a memorable dinner at Ryota Kappou Modern in Hong Kong. It was the first romantic dinner I had with my wife after we became parents. Fortunately, we found a babysitter that evening and could go out to enjoy that dinner just the two of us. Chef Ryota made the experience amazing for us.

What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without?

Cheese. We always have some cheese at home, it is my anytime snack. I love many kinds of cheese, but I especially love a 24-months aged Comté.

Savoury or sweet?

Depends on the day. I consider myself quite balanced as I love both.

The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong?

Pineapple bun, Dim sum (har gow, char siu bao, xiao long bao). Crispy suckling pig.

I used to really enjoy the drinks made by bartender Art Fatkullin when we worked together at Epicurean. He would make amazing creations with ingredients that he borrowed from my kitchen!

Something you want to try while in Hong Kong?

I would love to try learning how to make Dim Sum, including all the traditional elaborations. I enjoy dim sum so much that I must learn to make it myself!

Reservations can be made here. Sunset Grill, Level 19, Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel, 9 Yi Tung Road, Tung Chung, Lantau, Hong Kong, +852 2535 0025

Lorria Sahmet
After two years writing in luxury retail, Lorria now covers food and drink happenings in Hong Kong. When not taste-testing for the best fries in the city (shoestring, always!), find her cosied up at home skimming through Netflix or nurturing baby plants in her indoor greenhouse. She is happiest by the ocean with a giant fishbowl-glass of Aperol Spritz.
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