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.
Hailing from Coventry, England, Michael Smith got his first job washing dishes in his uncle’s pub when he was 14. He eventually wandered into the kitchens and knew that it was the life for him.
Led by the aforementioned Chef de Cuisine, Moxie, The Arcane Collective’s third restaurant, opened its doors in Landmark, Central, last month to great fanfare. The ingredient-led restaurant spotlights conscious dining options that draw inspiration from in-season produce and sustainability.
Smith, an Arcane veteran, is not a new name to culinary folks in the city.
“I came to Hong Kong on an impulse,” he says. “We’re very lucky as chefs to be able to travel the world if we want to and be able to use our skills wherever we go. I started at Shane Osborn’s Arcane as Chef de Partie in July 2015. Before that I was in the UK where I worked at two-Michelin starred Gidleigh Park and The Hand & Flowers.”
We catch him in between shifts to talk ethically sourced produce, signature dishes and more.
What is your signature dish? Tell us about it.
The Ma Po Tofu with Three Grains with Pickled Yellow Carrots. I made this dish one day at Arcane for staff meal, just riffing with some ingredients that we had lying around at the time, and Shane [Osborn] loved it so much he told me I should put it on the menu at Moxie. Since then, I spent time tweaking and refining it, and I’m really proud of the version you’ll find on our menu today. For me, not only is it healthy and delicious, it is also an homage to the dishes I have grown to love since I moved to Hong Kong.
What have you observed about the changing tides of gastronomy in Hong Kong in recent years?
The world and our industry alike are waking up and asking the questions of ourselves and our practices that need to be looked at. We need to question all of our decisions. These decisions have an impact somewhere down the line, whether environmentally or socially. Restaurants have such a responsibility because of the great power we have to impose real change. The food we eat, the way we farm, the procurement choices we make.
I see restaurants in Hong Kong sourcing more local more this year than ever before. Building relationships with farmers, building a more resilient food system in Hong Kong one small step at a time. Maybe that’s due to Covid bringing us back together, making us more aware of bigger issues at play. I hope to continue to see restaurants serve less and better meat, more ethically sourced seafood and more whole food plant-based cuisine.
Describe yourself in three words.
Driven, stubborn, passionate.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
There’s been so much. I’d also add that chefs aren’t exactly the type of characters that do what they are told first time around, so I had to find out the hard way so many times, but I really have had incredible mentors. Attitude is everything. Work hard, keep self-discipline and try and enjoy yourself whilst you do it. It’s not always easy; actually, it rarely is.
Cheat Day time: Which are your five go-to dishes in Hong Kong?