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 speak to Treehouse founder Christian G. Mongendre.
Plant-based food in Hong Kong has come a long way, and one of the key voices propelling the movement onward is none other than Christian Mongendre. Born in the SAR before spending his formative years in France, the trained chef has been fascinated by healthy, conscious eating since his youth: whether it was experimenting with a plant-based diet to enhance his performance as a competitive rower, or in realising the healing quality of food during his mother’s fight against cancer.
“Being the first wave of spearheading and opening plant-based concepts in Asia was no walk in the park,” the restaurateur reflects. “The F&B industry’s ecosystem did not have any streamlined secondary support, such as suppliers, farmers and waste management [companies] that pushed the needle for eco-sustainability. I had to keep expanding whilst facilitating tonnes of dialogue and cross education with many stakeholders.”
Four years later, he opened Home Eat to Live, his first fast-casual concept that overtook a former Burger King premises — serving vegan grain bowls, burgers and other guilt-free comfort foods (even cocktails) all championing locally grown produce. When it shuttered in just over a year, the vegetarian community was devastated — but not for long.
Mongendre quickly established his own F&B consultancy, CGM Concepts, which allowed him to share his vision for pure, healthy plant-based cuisine all across the world. Projects such as Lisbon’s Juicy Lisboa and Hong Kong’s own Artyzen Club have collaborated with him over the years.
Last year, he put the finishing touches on his SoHo brainchild — Treehouse, a friendly grab-and-go concept and all-day diner which not only touted a chef-forward menu of plant-based dishes, but also a high tech sustainable fit-out by ST Design. A second branch of Treehouse opened at Jardine House’s Basehall earlier this year, availing signature items such as Treehouse’s 24-hour leavened wraps, healthy bowls and cookies to Central’s suited salarymen hungry for more healthy, wholesome options. These days, Treehouse’s menu has also expanded to include more Middle Eastern-inspired dishes via its delivery-only kitchen, Origin by Treehouse, which is available from Central to Causeway Bay.
When we caught up with Mongendre, Hong Kong was only just beginning to feel its way out of a worrying third wave of coronavirus. Though the beleaguered F&B industry had been most heavily hit by the health crisis, he also sees this moment as a catalyst that has been changing people’s views on healthy eating and, hopefully, towards planet-friendly consumption in the long run.
“Life favours irony. I think CoViD loosely promotes [the plant-based movement],” he says. “Our immune system is what we rely on the most to protect us — food can either fortify or weaken [it]. With the global CoViD crisis, a lot of people have had more time to explore and unveil the issues around health in numerous societies, so it isn’t just Hong Kong that is suddenly receptive to businesses with wholesome solutions — the world is starting to wake up.”
He adds, “with this newfound awareness of global health, hopefully it’ll put [forth] more of these conversations on how … the systems we abide by are speeding up destruction of the natural world and are harming us. People are ready to act … and uncover their best feasible means to contribute to ecological preservation.”
In between promoting conscious consumption — one plate at a time — Mongendre gives us a peek into his early rising routine, his affinity for the great outdoors, the people he looks up to, and shares memories of resourcefulness that have taken him from his teenage years through to his business today.
Name: Christian Gerard Mongendre (CGM)
Occupation: My mission is to provide healthy, quality, whole foods to people.
1. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Morning for sure.
2. What was your first job?
I wanted to take my girlfriend for a holiday when I was 16, so I worked in a cement factory, filling buckets to get us to Bali.
3. What is your drink of choice?
Clean, filtered water or kombucha
4. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
I’ve built it around being everything I require for my routine. It’s small, but it’s all I need.
5. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
Nature after it rains.
6. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
7. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Mixed raw nuts… I could actually survive on this. Brazil nuts are my favourite.
8. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
Hahaha… so much. I left home when I was 13 years old so I grew up far from home. I got used to not having to ask permission.
9. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
I am actually a trained chef. I don’t enjoy cooking the same thing. I improvise 100 percent of everything I do, and use my intuition to feed myself based on my needs.
10. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Daily. To me, cooking a meal for yourself is kind of sacred — by preparing and handling your own food you connect with what you are consuming for your body… the next best thing is someone you love cooking for you.
11. Who is your role model?
Not a specific person, but highly functional individuals. The list evolves and develops over time with more exposure to artists, fellow ‘bio-hackers’ like myself, chefs, what have you. Anyone who maintains a level of self-mastery is a role model in their unique way.
12. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
Nature, being in nature and observing it is the best reflection of life.
13. What is your unique party trick?
I’m officially a square, but many moons ago I was simply a good host anywhere you put me. People felt good, they were taken care of, they had fun.
14. Do you have a catch phrase?
The Board of Squares does not approve of catch phrases in our conduct clause.
15. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?
I only want to compute balance for my life, but if I had to choose, I would pick never being alone, but with someone that isn’t talkative… If I can choose another option I would be surrounded by animals.
16. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
It’s so interesting to understand who came before you, and how the marathon of life has been passed through the baton from our elders, so that we may run our course and continue the race that hopefully never stops living on. My recent ancestors: my great grandparents from both my mother’s and father’s sides, and my mother’s father.
17. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? Which do you wear the most often?
Most of my shoes are the same (because I wear European size 47 and they’re very hard to find here). I am practical and when I like something I buy a bunch, and then years will go by till I realise I need a new bunch of shoes I like… I’m a big fan of Allbirds or Earthrunners.
18. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
I obsess over songs I like until I get sick of them, so everything I’ve ever liked (because I’ve heard them 1,000 times)
19. What is your biggest regret in life?
Regret is useless, just learn from mistakes and keep going. I appreciate my past but I’m not holding on to it.
20. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
Air quality, except recently it’s been amazing!
21. What are the top destinations on your bucket list?
Antarctica, the Amazon, Kilimanjaro.
22. What is your greatest fear?
To live a life based on the expectations of others.
23. What is your typical Sunday like?
Hiking in nature, relaxing, writing, a little bit of work and cooking.
24. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where did you go?
I do like to ride it. I think the last time was a few weeks ago to go get some veggie dosas.
25. What is one movie everyone should see?
‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988) an Italian drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Just watch it.
26. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
I was born here. I feel like I am a Hongkonger. My first breath was here and I feel drawn to this place.
27. What is your life motto?
“I can think, I can wait, I can fast” —Siddhartha