Behind the Dish: Chef Keith Hooker of Aberdeen Street Social 4

Behind the Dish: Chef Keith Hooker of Aberdeen Street Social

Posted on December 12, 2018 by admin

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that in its fourth year on the Hong Kong restaurant scene, Aberdeen Street Social returns with a special menu for the Christmas festivities. But with new head chef Keith Hooker in town, diners will be treated to a modern take on the traditional British Christmas feast. Having led kitchens under the The Social Company (the restaurant group under Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton), Chef Hooker presents the classics with a focus on the freshness of the ingredients to ensure you are whisked away to Yuletide bliss. In a moment of calm during this busy time, we sat down with Chef Hooker to talk about all things Christmas, from his special menu to his fondest memories of the season.

What are the highlights of the Christmas menu at Aberdeen Street Social?

The highlight for me is having the ability to import fresh Norfolk Bronze turkey directly from a farm in Norfolk, England. You can obviously buy turkey here from suppliers, but a lot of it comes frozen, sits in transit for a long time and needs to be defrosted. With the fresh product, we source directly from the farm; we get to prepare a good-quality Christmas turkey for our menu. One other thing we consider a highlight is the Yule log, for sharing. We’ve made it Instagrammable because people here in Hong Kong eat with their cameras.

Behind the Dish: Chef Keith Hooker of Aberdeen Street Social 1
The Norfolk Bronze turkey with all trimmings in all its glory. Feeling hungry already?
How would you describe a traditional British Christmas feast?

A traditional Christmas feast is having it at my grandmother’s house with my family, immediate and extended. I don’t know how she managed to cook a Christmas meal for about 25 people in a tiny kitchen, making all those cakes, profiteroles and, of course, the Yule log. She wouldn’t let me help her cook, because the few Christmases in my working life that I’ve spent with the family, she wanted me to relax as I was working long hours at the time. But she thought it was okay for her to wake up at six in the morning and cook for everybody else!

Are there some traditional dishes you have been inclined to skip and why?

We’re definitely going for a traditional menu this year with the turkey, the Christmas pudding, the mince pies and the Yule log, but one thing we didn’t do is the Christmas cake. It’s a heavily fruited, heavily nutted sweet cake that you would typically bake in January, and every month you would pour booze all over it. At the end, you get this fruity, boozy, slightly fermented cake that is eventually covered in marzipan. It obviously takes months of preparation, which makes a huge difference in its flavour.

With Christmas in full swing, how do you stay on top of things in the kitchen?

Professionally, it takes strong administration on my behalf, because we have many events going on inside Aberdeen Street Social and offsite, as part of the catering arm of the JIA Group portfolio. And knowing the flow of food, how much we have of it, where it’s stored and where it’s going. I have two strong sous-chefs who help with the organisation of the food coming in and the placing of orders. The flow of information is important, so I place sheets detailing what we need to do on the walls of the kitchen and email them to our team, so they know what needs to be done. I come from an environment where you’ve got Jason [Atherton] popping in the kitchen at any given moment, and it teaches you to be organised. Working for big names like Jason Atherton, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, whose restaurants are always busy, gives you a kick in the right direction and prepares you for anything.

Behind the Dish: Chef Keith Hooker of Aberdeen Street Social 2
Having a baker in-house is key to Aberdeen Street Social’s constant quest for using the freshest ingredients available.

Has working in Hong Kong changed the way you cook?

It hasn’t changed my cooking style entirely, but I’ve learned how to tailor my food for the Hong Kong market. This market is after something more relaxed, but of great quality. I see this amongst both the locals and expats. They’re always looking for something new – looking to try a new dish or a restaurant around the corner. Nevertheless, I want to continue being the English chef that I am, surrounding my dishes around fresh produce and material from England as much as possible.

With this being your first Christmas with Aberdeen Street Social, what are you looking forward to sharing or experiencing with your team?

The Yule log – it’s an amazing thing to share! The main thing I want to share with them and teach them, this time of the year and continually, is a different style of cooking. When you keep your team interested and inspired, you see the passion in their work. I’m looking forward to taking the team for a Christmas dinner to thank them for their hard work during this time of the year. It’s the season of goodwill, after all!

Behind the Dish: Chef Keith Hooker of Aberdeen Street Social 3

The famous Yule log that the camera MUST eat first.

Aberdeen Street Social is now closed.

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