As the executive director of skincare brand Fancl and founder of Gourmet Dining Group, Michelle Ma-Chan has a penchant for the finer things in life. With her restaurant group—which includes Michelin-starred Épure, French contemporary hotspot Arbor and pastry brand Dalloyau—she has become a power player on the city’s dining scene in just a few short years.
Now, Michelle has her sights set on new horizons—in particular, an exclusive guest chef programme that brings some of the culinary world’s most illustrious names to Hong Kong for exciting collaborations. One of the coming highlights is Sushi Umi’s Ryujiro Nakamura, who has been invited to collaborate with Arbor’s Eric Räty on a four-hand showcase on October 9 and 10. Here, over bubbles and Épure’s famous desserts, Michelle discusses her culinary ambitions and what makes a good meal.
What made you decide to open restaurants?
A few years ago I realised our top-tier culinary destinations were limited compared to cities like Japan, Paris, New York and London, partly because of Hong Kong’s high rents, which meant restaurants sacrificed quality to cut costs. My goal was to open restaurants offering the same elite quality with exceptional value, and Épure was born. Although the cost of running top-quality restaurants is substantial and they may take longer to break even, it’s worth the effort to inspire customers with a truly gourmet dining experience.
Why do you invite international guest chefs to your restaurants?
My goal is to bring their top-tier experience and skills to our local customers. These partnerships are greatly welcomed by our guests who aren’t able to get a table at these chefs’ popular venues when they travel, so they provide opportunities to experience the top-notch, world-class culinary wonders that other parts of the world have to offer.
What is it about chef Ryujiro Nakamura that made you want to work with him?
In my opinion, it takes three key elements to make a good chef: great ingredients, technique and heart. Ryujiro Nakamura has all three. To me, his sushi is as good as those from Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ishikawa or Kiyota. Most important of all, he is a happy young chef dedicated to bringing joy to his guests through his food. To make sushi that is this good, he needs to be absolutely dedicated in every aspect of preparation, including using scientific techniques to treat the seafood. These types of skills and methods also work excellently in the execution of French cuisine.
Tell us about the best meal you’ve had.
A truly great meal shares the same elements as my three key elements of a good chef. I’m fortunate to have experienced Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura in Italy, which is ranked number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. His inspiration and passion know no bounds. Not only is he creative, he also has the technique and capability to execute his vision perfectly. Despite the long waiting list, he insists on putting only six tables in his restaurant so he can maintain peak quality and total satisfaction for every guest. I find this very respectful. I remember the last time I visited his restaurant, a guest told him that he had eaten there three times in one month. Chef Massimo said it was not possible; he wants as many people as possible to try his creations, so he prioritises tables for those who have never eaten at his restaurant before. In the end, the guest admitted he had used different names to make his reservations.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
The younger generation nowadays asks for freedom. Having freedom to follow your heart is important, but discipline and a will to succeed are also crucial. Without discipline, all the freedom in the world will not result in success.
What is next for you?
I want to continue creating opportunities for those truly dedicated to building and advancing their careers. I want to help those who demonstrate a serious vision and dedication to become better, and to provide the opportunities and structure that can help them achieve their goals.
The four-hands lunch menu takes place on October 9 and 10 at Arbor, H Queen’s; +852 3185 8388
Photography: Moses Ng | Jewellery: Chopard
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