We chatted with Hong Kong-based French vegan chef Tina Barrat about hosting raw vegan dinners in the city and some easy-to-learn cooking tips
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a growing demand for vegan restaurants in Hong Kong. Whether it’s quirky treats like Just Scramble vegan eggs or vegan chocolate, there is a comprehensive array of options for plant-based eaters to choose from. And if you remember Maya Cafe, a vegan hotspot that served Wan Chai and Central well in the last couples of years, you may be interested to know that we chatted with former owner/vegan chef Tina Barrat about her recent foray into raw vegan private dinners.Time to learn some simple and rawsome cooking tips and food combinations!
Interview with Chef Tina Barrat
Hi, Tina. Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell us more about what did before turning into a vegan chef?
When I first came to Hong Kong, I was a fashion designer. I became a jewellery designer a few years later, selling my collections to different customers from across the globe. And when the economy collapsed in 2008, my customers – who were mostly in the fashion scene – cut down on accessories a lot. Since I’ve always loved cooking, I thought about changing my career, and I did. And Maya Cafe happened later.
How do you see the vegan scene in Hong Kong?
For me, one of the biggest problems being vegan is going out. I can only eat chips at a party, and sometimes you have to eat beforehand. Luckily, there are more and more options available in here. Pizza Express in Sai Ying Pun has recently launched pizzas with vegan cheese, which is fantastic! Whether it’s the locals or people who are travelling, a lot of them are asking for vegan options – so I think the vegan movement is doing great.
So, now your private dinners do mainly raw vegan dishes. How do you make sure raw vegan food is just as delicious and savoury as cooked meals? Do you try to mimic other flavours?
Most of my customers who come to the private dinners are usually not vegan. So for them, to eat something vegan that actually resembles certain flavours in traditional dishes makes them feel more comfortable. Because when a non-vegan person looks at an all-vegan menu, I don’t want them to be scared of plain salads. There is so much more in vegan cuisine. One of my latest creations is raw ravioli, the ravioli skin is made of slightly dehydrated pumpkin!
What are some of the creative food combinations in vegan cooking that you love?
For a vegan salmon dish I make, I incorporate almonds and carrots. The secret is to add some seaweed and some smoked paprika to recreate a seafood flavour, so it tastes like smoked salmon. Also, I put frankincense oil in my chocolate mousse. It’s one of the most popular items on my menu, even kids who aren’t fans of chocolate have told me they enjoyed it.
What’s your favourite dish to make at the moment?
There was a dish that I served back at Maya Cafe called Chilli Con Corn. It’s a raw chili dish made of tomato, paprika, corns, avocados with chili-lime sauce made of sun-dried tomato. As the weather is changing and getting hotter, I put it on my current menu and people love it.
What have you done other than hosting private dinners after closing Maya Cafe?
I do cooking classes in both rented spaces and in people’s homes, to teach them how to cook vegan food and make it tasty. There are a lot of books out there with great and well-elaborated recipes, but it’s not that easy to recreate something so explicit or to simplify the steps. In order to eat vegan more often, it’s important to start with something easier to make.
We are really mad for your food! Do you have a few cooking tips to share with our readers?
There is one that is superb; superb simple but you can use it in many ways. It’s a truffle sauce. I blend cashew nuts, water, truffle oil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper in a high-speed blender. It’s a creamy sauce perfect as dips, or for zucchini noodles and cooked pasta.
We’re asking for this question for all the vegan food lovers in Hong Kong, will Maya Cafe return in the future? (Fingers and toes crossed)
Yes, and no (laughs). If I reopen the place, I want a team. I can’t work fifteen or eighteen hours a day like I used to do, my body can’t take it. If there is a team, we can share the workload. My team before was fine, and some of the staff are still waiting to work with me again, but I need to find the right partner and figure out other things. So maybe it’s going to happen, who knows? [The Honeycombers Hong Kong team would be more than happy to help out, Tina. As long as we get to lick the bowls 😉 – Ed.]
Keep up-to-date with Tina Barrat‘s private dinners