Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. Each week in 27 Questions, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims, aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration it takes to sit through a two-minute speed date.
This week, we’re ringing in the Labour Day holiday by catching up with Camille Lisette Glass — one half of the duo behind Brut! in Sai Ying Pun. Along with co-owner and executive chef George Kwok (a native Hongkonger who previously staffed at Akrame) Glass is quietly carving out a space for simple, locavorian cuisine — kindred in spirit to the sort of pan-Asian new wave cooking that has captured the imaginations of other classically trained locals like Stephanie Wong and David Lai.
Earlier this January, Glass and the Brut! team broadened this pallet by opening Pondi — a collaboration with chef Taran Chadha (formerly of Blacksalt) offering a figurative exploration of the historic French colony of Pondicherry. At their core, both restaurants are about pristine local ingredients; sourced in the most meticulous way, blended into dizzying unpredictable combos of “aha”-inducing flavour.
Even prior to pushing the boat out on her own acclaimed restaurant projects, Glass was already a dab hand at the business of hospitality. The 33-year old French-American began her career at the Ferrandi Culinary Institute in Paris, before finding her way to Hong Kong in 2012 (she initially worked with two of the city’s notable expat-dominated dining groups, La Cabane and Locofama). Nowadays, she doesn’t do as much cooking as she’d like to, but remains inextricably involved in the process of developing new menus; as well as sourcing a diverse portfolio of natural wines that gave her debut wine bar/restaurant concept its favourable reputation. Prior to the madness of a four-day weekend, we called Glass up for a brief powwow: touching on a range of topics as diverse as her favourite meal in Hong Kong; what hard-working chefs actually keep in their fridges (spoiler alert: not much); and why restaurateur Dave Chang is a boundless source of inspiration.
1. What is your life motto?
“Trust your gut.”
2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
My first night in Hong Kong, I went out to a local seafood restaurant (somewhere in Mong Kok) and ate the most massive prawns with fried garlic for the first time. It was an absolute game changer.
3. Who is your role model?
David Chang — I binge anything that he comes up with. (I especially love his podcast.) Listening to him speak candidly about the ups and downs of restaurants is cathartic to me. He champions original ideas and is always challenging himself (and his teams) to make food more approachable and delicious, no matter what.
4. What was your first job?
I was a scooper at Ben & Jerry’s in Georgetown (Washington DC). I absolutely loathed the peanut butter flavour — it was impossible to scoop without breaking your wrist!
5. What is your drink of choice?
Right now? A big, buttery chardonnay.
6. When was the last time you drove a car?
Two summers ago — in France. It was short lived. I got scared. So did the passengers.
7. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
Our terrace is amazing: it looks down onto the back of a park where old men gather around for card games while birds chirp atop the trees.
8. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m a solid mid-morning kinda gal. I love running around The Peak before heading off to the restaurant.
9. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh, that’s impossible to answer. Ramen, I guess? But tsukemen — the cold dipping kind.
10. What is your biggest regret in life?
Not traveling more before we opened Brut!
11. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
12. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Virtually never. The truth is that most restaurant folk don’t have time to cook at home. No exaggeration, I think that in my fridge right now I have an avocado, pack of string cheese and a bottle of Pinot.
13. What is your greatest fear?
To stop learning.
14. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
15. What is one movie everyone should see?
Spirited Away. I’m such a sucker for all things Studio Ghibli.
16. What is your typical Sunday like?
We’ve recently opened up the restaurants for brunch, so I’ll often be at either Pondi or Brut! But I always make sure to plan dinner with friends. Oftentimes, we end up at our favourite Korean place in SoHo — Maru & J48.
17. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
Our research and design trip to India, right before we opened up Pondi. I say that because it was one of those highly surreal ‘wow’ moments. I’d always dreamed of traveling to India, but there was something extra special about going there with a restaurant project in mind.
18. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
Dave Chang; Haruki Murakami; Bob Dylan; and my parents.
19. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
Daddy Lessons by Beyoncé.
20. If you could banish someone from Hong Kong forever, who would it be?
The first person to introduce the selfie stick here.
21. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?
22. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Sifting through the Eastern Market bazaars on Capitol Hill with my mum on the weekends. I was always allowed one sugary fruit-flavoured beverage afterwards that I’d look forward to all week!
23. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
Just how grim the inside of my fridge looks.
24. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
Easy — my dad’s breakfast of sausage & grits. Ever since I was little he’s always made the most amazing southern-style breakfasts, usually accompanied by the sounds of Bob Dylan or Jacques Brel.
25. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
My chef-mentor when I was cooking in Paris — Patrice Gelbart. He taught me how to love the industry and trust in the beauty of self-expression.
26. What is your unique party trick?
Being freakishly good at opening a bottle of wine in a matter of seconds. Also, I can shimmy. Sort of.
27. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
Absolutely — on my first day at the Ferrandi Culinary Institute of Paris in 2011. I was taking the elevator up to orientation and when the door opened I saw Joel [my ex] for the first time. He was this young, handsome Hong Kong boy who greeted me with an Aussie accent. All he did was smile, say “hello” and ask me which floor I was heading to. A year later, I knew I wanted to move to Hong Kong.