8 April 2016
Cooking up a Storm
Perhaps it’s the arrival of so many celebrity chefs to Hong Kong; the vastness of the city’s restaurant offering; or the plethora of reality cooking shows on TV. Many people, it seems, want to unleash their inner master chef – and Hong Kong has a feast of culinary entrepreneurs willing to show them how.
Cooking classes in a wide array of cuisines are being held in locations across Hong Kong, some in small groups run by sole operators, others taking larger classes and corporate bookings. Without exception, they appear to be busy, with many not only booked out but with waiting lists.
Among them is Savita Winslow who started her business, Sav’s Cooking, after moving to Hong Kong from Australia in 2009. Originally from New Delhi, Ms Winslow ran a small catering company in Sydney, with the aim of introducing meat-eaters to organic, vegetarian Indian fare, and saw an opportunity to bring it to Hong Kong.
“Our family had turned towards an organic, vegetarian diet 20 years ago, when [most] people didn’t even know what organic produce was,” Ms Winslow explained. Having a son with special needs, she also wanted to inform people about the link between food and allergies/illnesses, and the benefits of “clean” eating.
Using recipes adapted from her mother’s cooking, she started the business at home, teaching groups of six to eight in the kitchen of her large home on Hong Kong Island’s Southside. The business soon had a waiting list of potential customers.
“In general, Hong Kong is a foodie haven, with so many different nationalities. People are curious about different cuisines, and this is also another way of socialising,” said Ms Winslow, explaining the surge in demand for cooking classes.
The health movement has “gone through the roof” in Hong Kong, she added, with many organic farms now producing a wide variety of food items. In turn, Sav’s Cooking has now grown beyond just classes to also offer a catering service and home delivery of home-cooked, healthy vegetarian meals.
Says Ms Winslow: “My cooking class aims to not only expose attendees to the intoxicating flavours of Indian home-cooked meals, but also to educate on the health benefits of certain foods and spices, and organic, healthy living.”
Professionals Come to Learn
Martha Sherpa, a professional Chinese-cooking instructor, has had foodies, professional chefs and restaurant owners from different parts of the world join the restaurant-style Chinese cooking, BBQ and dim sum classes she runs from her commercial kitchen in North Point, where it relocated from Mong Kok in 2014.
When the Hong Kong-born chef set up her eponymous business in 2004, Martha Sherpa’s was among the first in Hong Kong to teach professional-style Chinese cookery in English, Ms Sherpa said.
Her customers come from Russia, France, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Asia, most of them from commercial backgrounds or who dream of opening a Chinese restaurant. “They want to learn Chinese cuisine, especially dim sum,” she said.
Her growing business now incorporates full-, half-day and evening classes, as well as market tours, while retaining the small-group format, “which is what our students prefer.”
Ms Sherpa believes the trend of cooking at home, as opposed to routinely eating out, as is common in Hong Kong, is behind the popularity of cooking classes, as well as the plethora of cooking programmes seen daily on TV. Her business continues to grow and she now has waiting lists for her classes.
Passion for Food
Thai-born Feungfa Homon opened her business, Thai Cooking Class at Home, in 2009. After selecting at least three dishes from an online menu, clients receive three hours of instruction, which includes a market visit to shop for ingredients, followed by a one-on-one lesson in their own kitchen, “where you can help out as little or as much as you like,” said Ms Homon. A five-session package teaching three signature dishes from each of five Southeast Asian countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, India and Burma – is also available.
Ms Homon said teaching cooking started out as a fun way to promote Thai culture in Hong Kong, and to introduce known and unknown dishes from different parts of Thailand.
“Then people who participated in our classes helped to spread word of their experiences, so we became known as a private Thai-cooking class taught at home,” she said. “People love to experience something different from mainstream cooking courses, so they seek a more hands-on class. We are the answer to many full-time mums, as well as training domestic helpers.”
Melting Pot of Flavours
Ms Homan said that cooking is a passion that runs deep in her veins. She now runs classes in private homes and rented kitchens for patrons of all ages, including children and corporate groups.
There is little need to advertise. “Our business comes mostly from referrals,” said Ms Homan, crediting Hong Kong’s East-meets-West melting pot of cultures for the growth of her business.
“People here generally are keen to try different experiences; not only cooking, but other activities that the city has on offer,” said Ms Homon. Cooking classes, she added, are valuable for imparting a special know-how, which people like to learn and enjoy sharing when entertaining peers, colleagues and friends.