Cornerstone, the new approachable neighbourhood restaurant in Soho, is celebrity chef Shane Osborn’s latest Hong Kong creation. But whilst a household name in the global culinary scene, low-key Shane is not one to the hog the limelight. He demonstrated this on set in L.A recently on Netflix’s The Final Table, and he’s proving it back in Hong Kong by giving an opportunity to two of his proteges – Neal Ledesma and Didier Yang – to lead Cornerstone. As this exciting contemporary eatery opens its doors, we sat down with Head Chef Neal and Manager Didier to talk about their stories working with Shane and understand what’s behind the dishes at Cornerstone.
Hi guys! Could you tell us a bit more about your backgrounds and what brought you to F&B?
Neal: I was born and raised in Hong Kong but my family origins are in the Philippines. I started working in the kitchen right after high school because I was really inspired by how food touches people’s hearts. At the beginning I was in a Spanish kitchen before working with Shane for 2-3 years. After that, I focused more on North American food. Eventually I went back to Shane when he opened Arcane, and here I am now at Cornerstone, specialising in modern European cuisine.
Didier: When I was studying architecture at uni, I used to have long summer vacations which I would spend working in restaurants. I was also interested in wine so I did some of the wine certificates. I actually worked in St Betty with Neal in the kitchen before, that’s how we first met Shane. To me, food and architecture actually share the same philosophy, of which you can see the pure aesthetic or the pure function. For example, there is the taste aspect of the dish, but there’s also the aesthetic of it, and how it makes you feel. So the training from school to look at things from different perspectives helped me with my F&B career too.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned by working with Shane Osborn at Arcane for so many years?
Didier: I think working with Shane is all about consistency, which is doing the same thing, exactly the same way every time you do it. And it is very important in our industry. Once you have a slight difference, people will have a different perspective on the restaurant or the dish, so you have to maintain the expectation. Another thing is having personality, which is to do what we believe in, and hold on to that from day one.
Neal: I would say it’s being hard-working and disciplined. Appreciating the produce, seasoning things well, always tasting everything – these are the most valuable things Shane taught me. It’s a lot about attention to details, no matter how simple the food is, it still has to be consistent the way it’s handled and served.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the concept of Cornerstone, how did you design the menu and the vision of the dining experience here.
Neal: Cornerstone is about 3 things – great produce, modest cooking and value for money.
Didier: And experience as well. We use lesser known produce and serve lesser-known wine, so that our customers can try new things and have a new dining experience at Cornerstone. As for the interiors, the design is all about the lighting throughout the day. We want the same feeling at different times of the day, so we use a lot of grey and wood, keeping it neutral and timeless.
We can see a major focus on the simplicity of the ingredients, where do you source your produce?
Neal: The menu is seasonal, so we source our produce from a lot of places. Europe, sometimes Japan, and we use local produce too. It all depends on our suppliers. They give us a list of what we can get in different seasons, so we try to play around with what’s available. We plan to keep a small but dynamic seasonal menu, which we will change every 2-3 months, so to keep people excited and coming back.
As you know Dishtag is a search and social platform for food. What is your view on food photography and food on social media?
Neal: I think photos are the first contact between a restaurant and new customers. If you have nice and beautiful pictures, you leave a more profound impression in their minds, which will then attract them to actually go in and try the food. However, if you have “ok” photos, people may not be as interested.
Didier: I think it’s a good thing for them to take photos and share on socials in general. Although it’s hard to control people’s photos as different restaurants have different settings, and some dishes are more photogenic than others.
How will you use social media regularly as a tool to interact with your customers?
Didier: We think Cornerstone as a more approachable restaurant (than Arcane), it’s nice to have more photos on social media to keep people excited.