In Greening Out, we talk to leaders across industries about what they’re doing to make more eco-friendly choices in their lives and work. Up next, we talk to Ezra Star of The Pontiac about her back-to-back weekend pop-up with TiNDLE, Katsumoto Sando Bar and ecoSpirits.
For one final weekend, patrons at The Pontiac can Get Clucked #forgood. Following a successful first run, the bar is teaming back up on 4-5 September with TiNDLE plant-based chicken, Katsumoto Sando Bar and ecoSpirits to get Hongkongers thinking green while chowing down and throwing back cocktails.
Leading the effort is Ezra Star, who runs the show over at the wildest watering hole on Old Bailey Street. Teaming up with Katsumoto Sando’s Executive Chef Sean Mell, they’ve put together a menu offering up TiNDLE “KFT” Fried Karaage, TiNDLE Tsukune Sliders and a Plantation Pineapple rum cocktail. All items go for HK$100 and save 31 litres of water (switching from real chicken), spare 150 grams of carbon emissions (courtesy of ecoSpirits’ low-waste tech) and plant a native tree in The Pontiac’s name in Indonesia’s Sumatran rainforest.
Simply put, it’s a great way to feel good about, well, feeling good. And if last weekend’s inaugural bash was any indication, it’s a party not to be missed.
“We were really excited to have so many people in and to be working with Katsumoto again,” says Star. “We’ve done a previous pop-up with them when they were opening the sando bar, and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”
We reached out to Star to talk about getting clucked up with an all-star team, sustainability in Hong Kong’s F&B scene and how she’s made her own world a little greener.
The Pontiac has been working with ecoSpirits for a while now — how did that come together?
I believe we’ve been working with ecoSpirits since they first landed in Hong Kong. Beckaly is close friends with the CEO and very well connected within that whole group. So when ecoSpirits first came to Hong Kong, it was an easy collaboration between her, The Pontiac and ecoSpirits. We love using them and it’s amazing for anybody who’s trying to reduce the challenge that exists in the spirits world with using bottles and transportation and trying to cut back carbon emissions as much as possible.
What made you want to collaborate with TiNDLE, ecoSpirits and Katsumoto for this project?
So at The Pontiac we’re really working hard to try to reduce waste as much as possible and look at how we can do things with a more green approach, and working with ecoSpirits was an obvious example of that. And when TiNDLE approached us about using their product, we don’t really have a kitchen, and we’d worked with Katsumoto in the past, so the folks at TiNDLE helped arrange for us to all connect once again for this project and it’s been quite an amazing collaboration — just getting to work with Sean again (for me, the first time, but the second for The Pontiac) and try to do something new and interesting. We’re using some of the same spices in the drink that he’s using in the food, and of course using ecoSpirits in them at the same time.
What’s your favourite TiNDLE snack on the menu?
My favourite snack so far is definitely the TiNDLE chicken slider. Sean is taking a slice of pineapple and soaking it in the Plantation pineapple rum and cooking it down to reduce some of the alcohol before putting that on the slider itself. It’s absolutely delicious and perfect as a little snack midday.
F&B can be a pretty wasteful industry. How have you been able to reduce that in your career and at The Pontiac?
F&B is pretty wasteful like a lot of industries and it’s really challenging to try to narrow everything down. If you look at any part of what you’re doing you can then start to track what it means in terms of waste and carbon footprint and you can just kind of expound for hours and hours and go in directions you never expect. So our approach then is to just limit as much as possible what we’re using and try to reuse as much as possible. It’s a smaller programme than a lot of bars so it’s a little easier for us, but the challenge is pretty large, especially in an environment like Hong Kong where even recycling your glass bottles can be a challenge.
Also parts of the ways I’ve tried to reduce waste in the past, at least in my career before The Pontiac, is just really examining and trying to create close-loop cocktails by looking at what the kitchens are using and what the bars are using and trying to share waste amongst each side. Fermentation is really useful for that but it’s just one of many tools. Also things like being aware of how much citrus you’re using and looking at your numbers can actually save you a lot of waste as well and help reduce cost at the same time. So if you’re only making a certain number of cocktails, reducing the order really limits waste, especially with citrus which is one of the largest waste in the bar industry.
How does sustainability action differ from places like Boston and New York to Hong Kong?
So one of the most amazing things I’ve found about Hong Kong is that there are a lot more bars here that are actively trying to reduce waste. In NY and Boston it was something that people spoke about quite often but there weren’t actually a lot of people who were finding effective tools to implement those changes. Certain things like trying to be better with working with more local farms, working with more local people has been really useful. I see that in Hong Kong and especially now with Covid happening, it’s limiting how far things can come from. But in Boston and NY, people would talk about sustainability and put a cocktail on here or there but it seems here in HK there’s a lot more of a larger action plan when it comes to facilitating that, whether its reusing all the parts of a product or cutting back on how much citrus you’re using or cutting back on printing menus and things of that nature.
What has been the biggest surprise or adjustment for you since moving here?
My biggest challenge since I moved to HK has really been getting used to the size. I feel like it’s a pretty big city but everyone is kind of isolated in their own little neighbourhoods and that’s been a big change. It’s absolutely wonderful because you get to see the same people quite often but sometimes it’s hard to break into other areas.
You also really have to bring everything you have whenever you’re trying something new and be confident in it because there are so many incredible people here doing such wonderful things. It’s inspiring and it also forces you to think about your approach quite often.
What does the green movement need to gain momentum here?
I think what the green movement here needs most is maybe more assistance from the government and at least in Central having more facilities available and a better infrastructure for recycling bottles, for transportation for waste and reduction in waste for things like packaging especially. When I was in quarantine, I was blown away by how much waste happens just from that and there’s so many people doing quarantine at the moment and the staggering amount of waste that’s generated from it. So a greater infrastructure of waste reduction and recycling as well as composting. If there was local composting and more recycling, I think it would really reduce a lot and help quite a bit here. I would also say that working with local farms a little more is definitely something that’s on my agenda and I’d like to see more of that happening. Just bringing something into your bar is an act of some sort of participating in the carbon cycle so just being conscious of what you’re bringing in and how and where it’s coming from.
Who are some of the others in Hong Kong that you see doing sustainability well?
I really like what Agung [Prabowo, at Penicillin] is doing, I think they’re really minimising quite a bit. Also Jay Khan is doing a great job, at least it seems from the outside, in terms of waste. (I’m not really sure what they do behind the scenes about their bar programmes so I don’t want to speak too far on this.) But I do see Agung as somebody who is really doing his best to try to limit how much waste he produces and be conscious of how he makes drinks and what he’s making them from so he making less of an impact to the environment.
What makes sustainability important to you and the team at The Pontiac?
Sustainability is important to us at The Pontiac for lots of reasons, partially because it’s part of our environment, it affects us constantly, also it has to do with just being efficient with what we use and how and why we do it. Efficiency, I think can be massively useful when we’re dealing with a very small bar programme like what we have at The Pontiac.
Has this project and others made you more aware of being more green in your own life? Anything you’ve started doing differently?
So I’m actually really blown away by a lot of the green movement that’s happening in Europe when it comes to bars, and I’ve been massively inspired by them. My friend, Carina Velasquez in Paris built a huge, very large programme really focused on minimising waste and trying to be as green-friendly and eco-friendly as possible. And there are some great people in Sweden doing some similar things and that has really inspired me in my own personal life to really think about how I’m using things and why I’m doing what I’m doing and try to limit my impact as much as possible environmentally.
Any pop-ups planned for the future?
We don’t have any pop-ups planned at the moment, we’re currently about to start planning for our Pontypalooza which is our annual party that we throw to celebrate The Pontiac opening. It’s almost our anniversary and Beckaly has been working very hard on the plans for this year’s celebrations and I’m excited to be a part of it. We have some other people coming that will be participating as well — we always have guest bartenders and I’m looking forward to having everybody in!
We’ve got some little events that we’re working on here and there. But pop-ups at the moment we’re kinda keeping to a minimum as we can focus on what we have in the bar and take care of the staff and the guests and just getting used to being a little more stable now that the rules aren’t changing so consistently.
Anything else you’d like to share about the pop-up, the Pontiac, or yourself?
One thing I’d like to share is that I’m really excited to be at the helm of The Pontiac for the time I’m getting to be. I’m just so honoured to step in for my wife for a little bit and make sure the bar is able to continue to run whilst she starts her new project. And try to get the girls who are working with us inspired by what we do and by the cocktail world and why it’s fun and what they can get out of it. Beckaly did an amazing job building that programme and we’re in awe of what she’s done and we work together quite a bit about what I can do to make sure it’s consistent and to keep her vision going strong.
Either way, I’m very excited for all that we’ve got planned for The Pontiac. I’m not going to share too terribly much but there are some good things on the horizon for the bar and hopefully that stuff can come and carry out into the city!