In our Chef’s Special feature, three Hong Kong chefs spill the beans on everything from their favourite ingredients to cook with, to the guilty late-night snack they can’t resist after a busy service. In this instalment, we shine the spotlight on GEORGE KWOK, Chef at Pondi restaurant & Co-founder of Side Note Hospitality Group.
Tell us a bit about your restaurant and its cuisine.
Pondi is an Indian-French bistro inspired by Pondicherry’s French colonial influence.
What’s one of the signature dishes, and is it hard to cook?
Butter chicken. Ours is made with a twist! We marinate it in a jerk sauce of honey, coriander, scallions, garlic, habanero peppers and other spices for 24 hours. We use “three-yellow chicken” which is a local bird – it has very aromatic fat under the skin. When we chargrill it, we reserve the fat and put it back into our house-made sauce for extra richness. The process of preparing the dish is complex, so we recommend visiting us rather than attempting it at home!
How did you get started in cooking, and where have you worked in the past?
I started cooking at university in Bristol. Every week, my Hong Kong uni buddies and I would come together and cook Cantonese dishes that reminded us of home. However, I actually pursued a career in finance. I majored in accounting and finance and then took a job at a bank. I spent seven years in banking before I realised it wasn’t for me. I did an apprenticeship at Akrame, and the rest is history.
Favourite place to eat around town?
I always seek out hot pot. It’s my comfort food and I love to enjoy it with family and friends. There’s always good energy and connectivity around a hot pot. I don’t have a preferred spot. All I need to know is that hot pot is on the menu!
What do you like to cook at home after a big night of service?
Instant noodles with a packet of gyoza. I do enough fancy cooking at work!
What’s your guilty pleasure as far as fast food or eating out goes?
Nine pieces of McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce. Side note: McDonald’s is open 24 hours a day.
What’s the most underrated kitchen utensil?
Tongs. They are the most versatile tool. As well as for cooking, you can use them to move pots, and I use them to light and turn charcoal on our outdoor grill.
Favourite three ingredients to cook with?
Garlic, scallions and soy sauce – the Cantonese cooking trifecta. Is there any ingredient or food that people might be surprised to hear you don’t like?
Vegetables. I eat them for my health, but I don’t really enjoy them. I’m a meat guy all the way.
What’s an ingredient you see becoming trendy in the next year or so?
Plant-based meat. It’s already out there, but now even the most refined chefs are starting to use it.
Where do you like to shop for ingredients in Hong Kong?
For inspiration, I like local markets and local speciality shops. There’s a nearby Nepalese shop that I love to browse. For family treats, I like CitySuper and SOGO – they have the best Japanese ingredients.
What’s one tip that might be helpful for amateur cooks?
Always sharpen your knives. The sharper the knife is, the less likely you are to hurt yourself. Start with a whetstone and finish it off with a rod.
What can diners look forward to at your restaurant this year?
We just launched the new Pondi menu. It’s the type of food you can eat multiple times a month. It’s comforting, unpretentious and unintimidating!
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.