Interview with Relish Kitchen
Tell us about your Relish Kitchen! Relish Kitchen is modern catering; using quality ingredients and served with professionalism. It offers an array of international cuisines, with a focus on Antipodean and European styles. We cater to a broad range of guests; from fashion brand launches and corporate lunches, to 40th birthday bashes and weddings. Eight people to 1,500 people, the range is endless. That's what I love most about catering; every day is different. It's like being a fly on the wall, seeing a side of Hong Kong that not everyone gets the privilege to see.
What was your inspiration to start the business?
I trained as a chef in New Zealand, before working in Australia, UK, Scotland and France. Whilst working in London, I stumbled upon Catering. After working freelance for some of the top catering companies in the UK, I was convinced that this was the direction I wanted to go in, rather than opening a restaurant. I love doing 100 things all at once, so catering suited my personality. A restaurant would demand one coherent style, whereas catering imposed no limitations on my creativity. One day you’re making dim sum, the next, creating canapés to match a spring time collection of shoes! You also get to meet some really interesting people. Christian Louboutin is one of my favorites. However, I always try to fade into the background; after all, I'm a caterer, not a socialite. Professional conduct is king to me.
How long did it take you to set up your business?
My two sisters and I were brought up to be entrepreneurs. It's in our blood. Of course, there is that entrepreneurial seizure that takes hold, it’s an obsession! Pages and pages of ideas, values, goals, but that’s the easy part. Running a business is so much more than a good idea.
When I moved to Hong Kong in 2005, I began to set things up. My mother, Wendy Hall, was my main mentor. It is really important to absorb information and not necessarily from the same industry. I sat down with all sorts of people generous enough to give their time and advice. Wendy was my sounding board and really helped with the legalities. Every country is different, so I was a real duck out of water in Hong Kong at the time.
I started from a desk in her office and then took on my industrial kitchen once the majority of things were running smoothly. I see many people start gung-ho into a business, taking on a lot of overheads which then puts a demand on making business fast! The best advice I ever got was to grow slowly and organically. Turning away events that I was not ready for in the beginning was hard financially, but has been valuable in the long run. Walk before you run.
What excites you most about your business?
People. My staff are the most important part of my business. Without them, I am nothing. I feel like we have friendships that make the busy times bearable as we support each other. To have great people to work with, who care and are working towards a common goal, is vital.
When we have successes, we celebrate as a team. I get excited when we do well, when the client is happy, when they say, "We love Relish!" - that makes me beam with happiness. I love the times when we bite off more than we can chew and then come through with shining colors.
Where do you source ingredients from?
Most of our ingredients are imported. I love the idea of sourcing locally, but at the end of the day, quality wins. Our chicken comes from France, our beef from New Zealand and Australia, and our organic eggs are from Hong Kong. I'm very fussy. For staff lunches, I insist that we eat using the same quality ingredients. The health of my staff is as important as feeding quality ingredients to my clients. Last year I married an Italian chef, Fabrizio Napolitano. He has had an influence on some of the ingredients I use; Iberico lamb, San Danielle Ham, Truffle Caviar.
I currently have 11 full time staff, though I am looking for new chefs and an events assistant to join our expanding team. All of our service staff are freelance.
How are you funded?
I started my business with a small loan. Immediately after I had fitted out our industrial kitchen, the recession hit. Talk about making your hair fall out!! It was a really tough time. Because I was a small start up, I was able to tuck my wings and survive. I didn't have much time to sleep for a couple of years; unable to hire the staff that was necessary, I did most things myself. The first Xmas season, we did only 2 small events. Nobody was to be "seen spending money". The following December season, we worked our hearts out, going home for what felt like a nap, rather than a sleep. It all paid off though, we survived it and now we are set up to thrive. Though I must say, I'm always cautious. I'm terrified of losing what I have built. Relish Kitchen really is my baby.
What are your biggest challenges?
Finding great staff! Also, getting clear direction from some clients. "We want the best of everything, high-end, custom designed canapés, sky's the limit, Champagne, unlimited budget, gold leaf everything!!!” -followed swiftly by......."sorry, you're too expensive"! We do lovely drop off canapés that are perfect for tight budgets. We can work with all kinds of budgets, but you can't have the best and the cheapest at the same time.
Who are your go-to business mentors in HK?
Wendy Hall. I don't think I go a day without discussing something to do with Relish. She's my sounding board for the most mundane of thoughts.
Christine Peterson at Time technology. (Yes, my inbox is flooded, but I've tagged them all in a rainbow of colors!!)
Lori Granito at Go Gourmet. It's great to have someone in the industry to gossip with.
Learning is a never-ending journey.
Who does your marketing?
Ali Reid from Turtle Media is awesome. High end, but worth every cent. He did our website and has helped me tremendously over the years.
Our best marketing campaign, besides our website, has been word of mouth, though I find it impossible not to Instagram foodie fantasies and Facebook memorable moments. In saying that, at some of the most impressive events we've ever done I’ve often forgot to snap!
I do all my own food styling and photography. I find it easier to do myself, that way we can fill in our quiet moments with photographyshoots. It's also a great way to come up with new dishes.
I've started a mail-chimp newsletter, though I’ve always intended it to be rare. I hate nothing more than getting my inbox bombarded, so have opted for a gentle approach to marketing.
Proof is in the pudding as they say. Our aim is to get other events from every event we do, by doing the best that we can.
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