5 Mins Read
When Chef Jan Yeung took a turn in her culinary career to dive into product development with Chef Peggy Chan of former Grassroots Pantry and Nectar fame, she began to notice one big gap in the Hong Kong market – plant-based alternatives for dairy products. From vegan mozzarella and herby cream cheeses to 100% animal-free butter that delivers on taste, texture and functionality, the offerings available to the city remained small and niche. Like many entrepreneurs before her, Yeung decided to create what she could not find, launching her own brand to fill this gap. Christened Garden Hill, an ode to the hillside overlooking the bustling Sham Shui Po district and Hong Kong’s iconic bakery chain Garden where she is based, Yeung’s new brand brings in local flair and passion to the art of dairy production to create an entire range of vegan dairy products, from mayo spreads to pepper jack cheese and butter.
“I had been working my butt off in some serious kitchens for years. When I joined Peggy as her development chef, the challenge of applying my French fine-dining skills into a plant-based offering really excited me,” Yeung told Green Queen.
While Grassroots Pantry and Nectar are no more in what is often described as a true loss for Hong Kong’s plant-based dining scene, Yeung explained how her time there provided the inspiration that kickstarted her brand new venture, Garden Hill. “More than anything it lit the spark,” she remarked. “I came to see how much Hong Kong was lacking in the plant-based market and I really struggled to find products I could get excited about – I was sure I could do something better.”
I came to see how much Hong Kong was lacking in the plant-based market and I really struggled to find products I could get excited about – I was sure I could do something better.
Launched this month, Garden Hill showcases Yeung’s range of 100% plant-based dairy products, which ranges from nuts-based mozzarella, pepper jack and aged sharp cheese to soy-based vegan truffle mayonnaise, herbed cream cheese and oat milk, nut-free blocks of butter that are perfect for sautéing and baking. Unlike many other plant-based brands on the market – most of them imported from the U.S. and Europe and tend to be cashew and coconut-heavy – some of Garden Hill’s products are unique in incorporating a distinctly local and beloved ingredient: tofu.
“A lot of the vegan dairy products are made from nuts. I’ve used nuts for my cheeses because the fat content can give creaminess, and because I am able to ferment the cheeses and develop some good funky flavours – closer to what you might expect from dairy cheeses – but I didn’t want to use only nuts,” Yeung said.
“There are a lot of great properties in in the soy products that I use – they allow me to make my mayonnaise and my herbed cream cheese more smooth than if I were to use nuts, and they allow me to reach out not only to people who are choosing a plant-based diet, but also to people who are lactose intolerant or have nut allergies.”
I didn’t want to use only nuts. There are a lot of great properties in in the soy products that I use.
Prioritising quality ingredients in order to develop dairy products that fulfill on taste and texture, Yeung adds that the tofu she sources also comes from a local producer, while other plant ingredients such as oat milk, which she crafts her nut-free butter out of, are supplied from abroad.
Beyond bringing locally-made beancurd to her dairy-free range, Yeung’s brand name itself – Garden Hill – is a paean to her neighbourhood.
I chose the name because it represents our home, but also because it is reminiscent of a brand name that a traditional cheese or dairy producer might use. The word garden serves as a nod to the ‘produced-from-the-earth’ nature of my plant-based products too.
“Garden Hill is the name of a small hill just two minutes down the road from where I live,” she told Green Queen. “It overlooks the madness that is the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood and can be quite a beautiful spot. It’s named after the iconic Garden bakery, whose original site is at the base of the hill.”
“I chose the name because it represents our home, but also because it is reminiscent of a brand name that a traditional cheese or dairy producer might use. The word garden serves as a nod to the ‘produced-from-the-earth’ nature of my plant-based products too.”
When asked about which of her dairy alternative creations is her favourite, Yeung said she’s on a journey of discovering the different results that fermentation and ageing processes can produce over time, and that it depends on the type of recipe she’s whipping up in the kitchen.
I’m most proud of my butter – you can do everything with it that you can with dairy butter, spread it, sautée and bake.
“I’m most proud of my butter – you can do everything with it that you can with dairy butter, spread it, sautée and bake. But my favourites to eat are the aged sharp cheese, as it tastes slightly different every time and I’m surprised by the complex flavours it develops. That, and the truffle mayonnaise too!”
Ultimately, Yeung hopes that Garden Hill will bring to Hongkongers the foods they miss the most while shifting away from animal-based foods towards a healthier and more sustainable plant-based, vegan diet.
“I want to make products that people don’t settle for. I want people to be able to get excited about their plant-based choices.”
The full range includes regular and truffle mayo, butter, melty mozzarella and melty pepper jack, herbed cream cheese and aged sharp cheese. Order from Garden Hill via their website.
All images courtesy of Garden Hill.