Test Kitchen’s founder Vincent Mui takes us on his foodie journey from life as a New York busboy to working with Michelin-starred chefs.
Hong Kong’s food scene is taking off with new restaurants and flavours round every corner, including modern Indian at Chaiwala, authentic Chinese at Yat Tung Heen and casual Japanese food at Tiger Room. One concept which is capitalising on the demand for ever-changing foodstyles is Test Kitchen. We chatted to Vincent Mui, founder of the pop-up restaurant that invites chefs from across the world to host new menus and to share their experiences with adventurous Hong Kong diners. Check out how Test Kitchen came about.
Test Kitchen founder Vincent Mui chats about his pop-up food journey
Hey, Vincent. At which point did you realise that you wanted to be in the food industry?
It wasn’t until college in the States that I fell in love with the industry – the food and the hospitality. I’d eat at these restaurants and have a great time, and it was there I realised that I wanted to be in those shoes, serving brilliant food and amazing dinner experiences.
So did you follow your hunch after college?
No, I didn’t jump into it right away. I actually moved back home to Hong Kong, to work behind a desk and was training to be a auditor. But, I always wanted to be involved with food. I had nothing to lose and those close to me were encouraging me to follow my dreams which gave me that extra boost of confidence to just go for it.
Chasing the dream is pretty ballsy. How did you find that change in scenery and mentality?
I loved it! I quit my job, went to culinary school in the U.S., became a busboy and was working a hectic schedule at school in the day, then kitchen work from the evening until 2am before grabbing the metro back to Jersey City. I was a sponge, constantly soaking in new information and loved pushing myself everyday. Afterwards I worked in pop-ups across the country, I got to travel around, learn, cook, and think outside the box with whatever resources we had.
I was heading back to Hong Kong to get ready for my wedding, and I wanted to bring the idea back home. To create a platform that helps local chefs, brings across ideas and let them tell their own story.
Your journey from busboy to Test Kitchen is quite the story. Is there someone in particular that influenced you the most?
Kwame Onwuachi (Restaurant owner and U.S.Top Chef contestant). He’s my bro man, we did a food tour in the States and he flew to do the opening pop-up, and then was best man at my wedding.
The first pop-up back in Hong Kong, what was that experience like?
I didn’t open to the public. I thought no one knows who we are, nobody knows who I am and I didn’t know anybody. So, I pulled together friends and a few industry faces, rented a kitchen and put two long tables together for Kwame. I really just wanted their opinion, after I went to Thailand for a week and came back to find 350 people had signed up. We were just like – erm, let’s do it again…
Our second event was two months later and after we were popping-up in different locations, taking over different kitchens. I had a lot more time back then between pop-ups (laughs). I realised we were spending a lot of resources, so I found a permanent space in Sai Ying Pun.
If you had to pick one, which pop-up at Test Kitchen stands out most to you?
Probably the first pop-up here at Test Kitchen. I was promoting, getting the chefs, lining up the dates while renovating the entire place. We had to make the date (laughs) and so much had to be done. It was a crazy time, but very memorable. I was in a new place, and it was kind of a dream come true having my own restaurant.
What’s next for Test Kitchen and how do you hope to influence the local food scene?
Hong Kong is the home of Test Kitchen, but if we can keep growing, I’d love to bring the pop-up across the world. Taking the talented chefs here and exposing them to new experiences outside of Hong Kong.
Over the past couple of years I’ve started to meet more local chefs, not only are they passionate, but talented. I want to expand this project so they can capitalise, people will get to know them and it might lead to something more for them – new opportunities, new venues and new audiences. They’re getting real opinions and the opportunity to cook for 40+ people a night.
How do you hope to help local chefs succeed in this industry?
It’s very rare for local chefs to make itto Executive Chef level. There are a few who make it to Head Chef, but they’re still under an Executive Chef who’s the face of the restaurant. The faces at most restaurants are not locals, but the chefs are. I meet a lot of talented people, but often their skin colour stops them from succeeding. No one believes they can cook outside of Asian food, and it’s been that way for years.
But I think in time this will change. We’re a platform for local chefs to get their name out there and at the end of the day, the long battle is defined by the experience and how good the food is.
Test Kitchen, Shop 3, G/F, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, p. 9032 7628, 西環西營盤干諾道西158A號地下3號舖