Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and how you ended up in Hong Kong as a chef?
Cooking was part of my family even before I was born. My father was a chef in New York and then started his own produce company so growing up, he provided us with the best seasonal products on the market. Being a Greek-Italian, I grew up with the flavors of the Mediterranean and was strongly influenced by grandmother who remains the best cook in the family. I started to cook professionally at the age of 16 and fell in love with the industry right away.
My first restaurant was a small bistro in New Jersey called Joe and Maggie’s Bistro, one of the top restaurants in the area. I was very fortunate to have spent time there at such a young age. After I finished culinary school I worked at the Union Club in New York City for Chef John Rellah. This was one of the most prestigious private clubs in NYC and this set me up for my next job, Restaurant Daniel.
The time I spent at Daniel was the most difficult time of my life. I entered one of the most difficult kitchens in the country- and one of the best- at the tender age of 21. The amount of experience I gained working for Daniel and his brigade prepared me for the rest of my career. I spent about three years there and then set off to Europe. I wanted to learn about French Cuisine so I contacted Chef Gray Kunz who I knew from John Rellah and Chef Gray helped set up work for me at Restaurant Hotel de Ville, Philippe Rochat in Crissier, Switzerland.
From there I went to with Alain Ducasse at La Bastide de Moustier before getting the job offer from Chef Gray Kunz to move to Hong Kong and open Cafe Gray Deluxe at The Upper House. This would be my first time working in Asia and working for Chef Gray Kunz, and I was very excited! Chef Gray was always someone that I knew I wanted to work for but I had no idea to what point I would fall in love with his cuisine and the culture of Hong Kong and Asia.
Chef Gray introduced me into a completely new way of cooking and this became addicting! His approach to creating dishes with different spices and influences to all different types of cuisines was extremely inspirational to me. This encouraged me to learn more myself not only to learn from Chef Gray and the way he cooks but to look at all cuisines and apply it to the food that we serve at Cafe Gray Deluxe . This is why when people ask us what kind of food we do it is impossible to answer. It’s just Cafe Gray!
What is the Cafe Gray Deluxe story and mission?
Cafe Gray Deluxe, a 21st century ‘grand café’, is located on the 49th floor overlooking Victoria Harbour and signals the return to Hong Kong of Chef Gray Kunz with his cuisine. Chef Kunz offers a unique style of European classics and signature dishes from a lifetime leading the very finest kitchens in Europe, Asia and America. His cuisine is a departure from traditional fine dining, to ‘everyday dishes’ with an accent on local organic produce and relaxed service. Cafe Gray Deluxe strives to renew based on classic foundations of well established dishes such as a simple Sole Meunière by adding modern presentation, uncompromising quality ingredients, great technique and a fabulous team to bring alive again the simple fish and chips!
The role I believe Cafe Gray Deluxe will play is to stay true to solid values, no gimmicks, great quality, and uncompromising hospitality. We don’t create just for the sake of trends and novelty, but base our cuisine on a methodical, well thought out process, respect for seasonal ingredients and strong training standards. Our focus is always freshness, seasonality and pricing.
What are some of the greenest features of Cafe Gray Deluxe and its menu?
We source as much as possible from local suppliers – most of it organic; whether these be locally farmed organic chickens or organic herbs and lettuce from the New Territories. We also use locally grown garlic, ginger, onion, spring onion and scallions, as well as locally grown tomatoes in one of our signature dishes, Pasta Fiore with Stewed Tomatoes, Thyme and Rosemary (pictured below).
Cafe Gray Deluxe works closely together with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and participates in its sustainable seafood program. We feature three to four sustainably-sourced seafood dishes on the menu daily, such as:
- Steamed Lemongrass Marinated Garoupa
- Red Rice Crusted Lobster
- Grilled Tasmanian Salmon with Pomegranate Tangerine
How import of a factor is sustainability in your chosen profession?
Sustainability is part of my job – it is extremely important. Being a chef not only means knowing how to cook but choosing the correct ingredients. Just because a fish taste good does not mean you can just leave it at that- such a decision is selfish. Being a good chef means taking everything into consideration when putting it on the menu and asking yourself: Does this product taste good? Is it good choice to use environmentally? Is it healthy for the guest to eat?
What are the challenges of sourcing sustainably in the restaurant industry in Hong Kong?
Currently a lot of vendors do not take sustainability into consideration because most chefs don’t ask for sustainable fish. When I buy fish and ask how sustainable it is, the vendor often does not know. Luckily we have advocacy groups like the WWF that create resources to help us get these answers. Do your customers care about having green options on the menu? Yes, some of our guests are thrilled about the fact that we only use sustainable fish at Cafe Gray Deluxe. It makes dinning a better feeling when you know that what you are eating here is not harming the sea and cooking a product like this is so rewarding.
What is your greenest habit?
Walking to work everyday. I don’t know if that’s a green habit or maybe I am just trying to save some money!
Where is your favorite place to eat sustainably in Hong Kong?
I am a fan of Liberty Private works. Chef Vicky Cheng also uses sustainable fish. Its great thing to have a friendship with other chefs in this area because as a foreigner it can be difficult to the extensive network that local chefs have. If a product comes my way and I think Vicky may be interested in it I will call him and he does the same with me. Both of us have similar views on the quality of the products that we serve.
Visit Chef Joey Sergentakis and try his gorgeous food at Cafe Gray Deluxe, Level 49, The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong.
Green Queen Heroes is a monthly series showcasing the talented and relentless individuals who are helping to make Hong Kong a greener, cleaner, kinder place to live and giving us eco-warriors more accessible options!
All pictures courtesy of Cafe Gray Deluxe.