Hong Kong boasts one of the most dynamic dining scenes on the planet, filled with culinarians and tastemakers galore. In our Cheat Day column, we spotlight some of the top players in the kitchen and behind the bar, delving into their personal favourites during their days off. This week, we speak to Karisa Cheque of Candour, Common Abode Group.
In a fast-paced, super-established culinary city like Hong Kong, it may be daunting for most to start their own F&B businesses amidst the greats. Common Abode Group, however, is a relatively new group that’s rising to the challenge, and — from Burmese restaurant Club Rangoon to Scandic coffeeshop Hjem — they are worldly. This month, they’re setting tongues wagging again with the opening of Candour, a bar and lounge that pays homage to a distinctly luxe hip-hop culture.
Helmed by Karisa Cheque, Executive Chef of the Common Abode group, we’re expecting great bites along with some quality tunes.
“Candour serves elevated comfort food with a twist on global flavours of the dishes that I personally enjoy,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to work as a cook and I grew up learning amazing Brazilian food from my grandmother. She always fed me finger-licking dishes, but I take my inspiration from around the world.”
Let’s start at the beginning: walk us through a bit of your background.
As a safety blanket, I decided to study Economics followed by Accounting in school, which is really when I realised that no matter how hard I tried to stay away from pursuing cooking as a profession, my heart would always lead me to the kitchen. Eventually, I gave in and I started to cook for my friends and family at home, after which I decided to open my own business; a local delivery where the dishes were inspired by my grandmother’s soul food.
In 2018 I was approached by a headhunter who offered me a position as a head chef in a restaurant in the city. I decided to come to Hong Kong and, I must say, it was one of my best decisions I have made in my life. I love Hong Kong and the F&B industry here; it is full of different concepts with the space to create, and I can’t wait to bring more of my creativity to the city.
What is your signature dish at Candour? Tell us about it.
The Octopus Hot Dog (HK$148) is inspired by one dish that I created a long time ago, but I made it in a sandwich style. It’s made with a very tender octopus leg glazed in teriyaki sauce, served in a brioche bun filled with a potato and egg mayonnaise, topped with gremolata sauce.
The Pineapple Bun Chicken Burger (HK$148) is made with a very crispy chicken thigh, beetroot mayo and pickled cauliflower. I used a local pineapple bun to bring sweetness and balance the flavours. I can say it’s my favourite from the whole menu.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
The kitchen is a very chaotic place full of people with lots of ego, and for me, this was always a problem. I believe in order to feed people, we need to be kind and bring this to our work environment. Cooking is about passion, but it is also about the energy that you pass to your guests through food. So, one day, a chef that I used to love working with told me, “Just work very hard, do your best and stay true to yourself. Be humble, no matter what.”
I try my best to do so, and I believe it works really well for me.
Which are your five go-to dishes/drinks in restaurants or bars in Hong Kong?
The fried chicken from Moyo is to die for. Very crispy and juicy.
I love to go to the beach, and every time I go to Shek O, I stop by Thai Garden for a great meal. Papaya salad, minced pork, pad Thai, the curries and the pork neck are my favourite.
My first meal in Hong Kong was at Dim Sum Square, so that place has a special space in my heart. They do delivery and when I’m at home craving for Dim Sum, I order from there.
Amber is another place which everyone should try. The textures and flavours, the plating, everything is just delicious and ties together beautifully. I like it when something simple surprises me, and the pickled pumpkin used in the lobster dish is just incredible.
And last but not the least, Mesa by Fred Sistelo, my favourite private kitchen in Hong Kong. It is Brazilian cuisine and heavily influenced by Portuguese flavours, so eating at Mesa always makes me feel at home.