We often portray fathers to be authority figures, and coincidentally, so are chefs, as the leader of the brigade who runs the kitchen day in and day out. In the run-up to Father’s Day, we sat down with four chefs and their new additions to the family and listened to their dining stories of how having a child helped change the way they see their work.
Vicky Cheng of Vea
Hong Kong Tatler Dining (HKTD): Tell us about your daughter.
Vicky Cheng (VC): This is Elizabeth. She was born on Children’s Day (April 4) and is now just over 14 months old. We always knew we wanted children and I always wanted to start with a boy, and even now that we have Elizabeth, the Chinese in me still like the idea of having a boy in the future. Like tradition says, a girl and a boy makes it good.
HKTD: What do you consider to be the most difficult part of being a father?
VC: I think the most difficult part is being a good husband on top of being a good father. When you have a child, your priorities change and you immediately have a new job—a new post you need to quickly become great at. Before it was just being a chef at Vea and being a good husband, but now you add on one more important job so I think being a good husband becomes the most difficult, to love the mother of my child and still be good with everything else.
Vicky Cheng of Vea
HKTD: What are Elizabeth’s favourite foods?
VC: She loves pasta, she loves rice. Unlike most babies, she likes everything whole. She doesn’t like everything cut up. She enjoys eating strands of pasta. She also enjoys durian a lot. When I was young, my mom gave me durian and I never once spat it out, so that runs in the family. She also loves cheeses like parmesan and soft cheese, but she hasn’t taken blue cheese yet.
HKTD: What kind of expectations do you have for Elizabeth?
VC: I just want her to grow up to be a good person. She does what she wants. I won’t ask her not to go into the food business. If she does turn out to be a good cook I’ll make sure she turns into a great one. Whatever she falls in love with, I hope she will stick to that and go along with it
Nathan Green of Rhoda
HKTD: Tell us about having Lily in the Green family?
Nathan Green (NG): We had Lily a little over 9 months ago and I have enjoyed having her ever since. Now there are four girls in the family: my wife Kos, daughter Lily, and two female chowchows named Lollie and Trixie.
HKTD: What is the most difficult part of becoming a parent?
NG: I think my role as a father is to cover everything my girls (wife and child) need. I need to make sure we have family time and do quality things when we spend time together. I think the most difficult part is having the chance to spend quality time with Lily. I don’t believe in being with your daughter all the time, what we need is to spend the time smartly with Lily. We have family time on Sundays, and on Monday, our regular ‘Daddy takes Lily’ day, we go to the zoo, we spend time at the pool, we visit friends and eat lunch together. It is always going to be about being with her and spend as much quality time with Lily as possible.
Nathan Green of Rhoda
HKTD: What kind of parenting style do you practice?
NG: When you have a child, he or she has to be your full attention, especially when you spend time with the baby. I never understand how parents can rail off and run their errands while their children wander off in the mall or at the park. I leave my work at Rhoda, so when I get home it’s all about family. I also play with my phone a lot less now. For Lily I think it’s important I surround her with positive things. I think it is important to build her confidence at a young age. I think learning martial arts can help with it for sure, and I am quite confident Lily is going to grow up into a woman who can break hearts as much as she can break jaws, to protect herself of course but I’m by her side all the way, from showing her the importance of hard work to putting her mind on things she excels in. I want to be a liberal parent, and offer everything I can for Lily to have a good childhood.
HKTD: What is Lily like with food?
NG: Lily eats everything we eat. She starts to develop a good taste for foods like tapenade, yoghurt, even hummus. She loves bananas and blueberries. We encourage a lot of sharing with us at the dining table. She will watch us eat and have snacks. She is very interested in food, she sees what we see, and we have dinner properly at the table, never in front of the television.
Agustin Balbi of Haku
HKTD: Tell us about having Lucas.
Agustin Balbi (AB): Lucas is a mixed baby – Argentinean from me, half Taiwanese and half Japanese from my wife’s side. At first, I thought having a baby is just like having a new project or goal in life, but when I heard the heartbeat for the first time, I suddenly realised it’s a lifelong project with parts of you in it. You’d start to think, work, and see things differently. You will start making plans factoring him in it with a central role in all decision making processes.
HKTD: What does being a good father mean to you?
AB: It means responsibility. You need to be responsible because his life depends on you. He looks to you as a Superman and you need to think about more than yourself, but also for your wife and children now. You need to plan ahead, see what you want him to do for the next couple of months, or even years.
Agustin Balbi of Haku
HKTD: What kind of food does Luca enjoy?
AB: He is a meat-lover. You can see it in his arms and legs here. Everything from the usual pork, beef, and chicken to something a little more adventurous like venison. His Japanese blood certainly gives him his love for fish like cod, salmon, and even mackerel. But his food passion also extends to asparagus and tomatoes a lot. He doesn’t enjoy potatoes somehow. He enjoys sweet potatoes but not boiled potatoes. We have tried that in different forms of potatoes, but I guess we will try to do different things to it to try it again when he’s older.
HKTD: What about family time? Now that you have recently opened Haku , how will you juggle your work time with Lucas?
AB: I used to finish work really late, even with the new restaurant but now I finish as soon as possible, and my team helps me with that. When it comes to family time, we would go to swimming class in the morning, sometimes to the park we would go to picnic too. When we spend time at home we will sit together and watch some Spanish cartoons. On my side of the family I raise Lucas mostly in Spanish, and on my wife’s side, she teaches him Mandarin and Japanese, both of which she is fluent in. And when we are both together we do English. I think it is a good training for him to be surrounded by languages at a young age.
Satoru Mukogawa of Sushi Kuu
HKTD: Tell us about your son.
Satoru Mukogawa (SM): This is Rikuto: in Japanese, it means ‘a clear person’. He is 1 year and 10 months old. He is a big boy now. Traditional values in the Japanese culture come to mind when having children, which dictates my desire to have a girl in the first place. Girls always come back to their family even after they get married. Boys grow up, fly away from the nest and only very occasionally visit us. But I’m hoping Rikuto may be a different boy when he grows up.
HKTD: How does having a child affect your work as a chef/patron of Sushi Kuu?
SM: As a chef and entertainer at the restaurant, I hang out with my guests a lot, and more often than not it involves copious amounts of alcohol. After having Rikuto in the family I have had fewer drinks and gotten off work earlier. I have also gone clubbing less these days so I can spend more time with the family. It is equally important to note that my son comes to the restaurant three times a week. He will be here to eat with us and hang out with us. When guests see him, they often take pictures of him; I guess that’s how Rikuto become so sociable and less camera-shy. You know, his first word is not ‘daddy’ or ‘mommy’. It’s ‘Cheers’. It happened one afternoon while we had lunch and as the adults had a toast, my son toasted with us, and loudly said ‘Cheers!’. Now we definitely know he is my son.
Satoru Mukogawa of Sushi Kuu
HKTD: What do you think about raising a child in Hong Kong?
SM: Raising my son isn’t easy. He is very active and I try to keep up with him, physically and mentally. We also try to travel together as often and as many times as possible. We have been to seven countries together since Rikuto was born, not to mention we try to travel back to Japan three to four times a year. When in Japan my wife and I want Rikuto to spend as much time with nature as possible. Then, of course, we must have good food together there.
Raising a child in Hong Kong is not easy. The city is child-friendly but the education system is not. Parents often are rushed into making plans for their child way before the children are born, sometimes conceived, and the schools are not equipped with programmes that encourage a good learning environment and experience for the child, not to mention it is crazily expensive too. But the good thing about all of this is that my son has learned at a young age, from his pre-school, that it is important to share and care for others. This is not something you normally learn from school but I find it important for a child to master at a young age.
HKTD: Speaking of good food, tell us about Rikuto’s favourite food.
SM: Rikuto loves any kind of Japanese food, but no raw fish for him until he is three-years-old at least. He loves fermented food like miso soup and natto (fermented beans), and good steamed rice. His food preference shows how much a Japanese boy he is, but he loves a good pizza too. My wife and I try to keep a balanced diet for my son, and it is important for me to educate him how to taste at an early age. We want to offer him a taste for the real ingredients so he will learn to appreciate it. He can learn about the bad side of things with fast food when he grows up, but knowing the difference and telling good ingredients when he is little is certainly something I would want him to have as a child.
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