Cheat Day: Devon Hou, executive head chef of Cobo House
Where do the notable chefs and bartenders of Hong Kong F&B scene like to eat when they’re not cooking? What is their favourite home-cooked meal? Cheat Day goes behind the scenes with the city’s culinarians and tastemakers to find out exactly what their personal favourites are during their days off.
Devon Hou prefers working with pork, but she also knows the best chuck steak is in Kowloon City.
It’s a testament to Hou as a 15-years trained chef; she’s familiar with her ingredients and is comfortably at ease with the city. She grew up here — give or take a couple years where she spent her time cooking away at London’s Goring Hotel — it’s where she found a dedicated avenue to really — passionately — develop her craft, and where she marked milestones in notable Michelin-starred kitchens, two of which include Richard Ekkeubus‘ two Michelin star Amber, and chef Vicky Lau’s Tate Dining Room.
As for the extensive knowledge in the best produce in Hong Kong? Her previous position as head chef at Test Kitchen, which consists of ensuring smooth service run-downs in the kitchen for visiting chefs, taught her patience in taking the effort to visit local markets daily in search of seasonal produce.
“My mum and my grandmother have been making the best and the most delicious homey food since I was little,” Hou shares. “They taught me how to cook. I guess I developed my passion and inherited my cooking skills from them.”
“Miss Chiu, my home economics teacher, is also who inspired me,” she adds. “She was the first person who helped me find my passion in cooking and has given me the best piece of advice: to ‘be a chef’.”
Hou currently leads the culinary program at K11 Musea’s Cobo House — famously known for its single-themed Knife and Spoon series — with dear friend, fellow Mandarin Grill alum and co-executive head chef, Ray Choi. The contemporary menu is a series of photogenic plates that whisk diners through a sensational palette of flavours — sight-wise and taste-wise — and serves as a culmination of Hou’s simple yet artistic, fine-dine techniques thus far.
“[Being a chef] means I can pursue my passion,” she says. ” I love food and cooking, so why not make a career out of it by being a professional chef? This job gives me satisfaction on a daily basis, and I feel empowered when I see my career progression as a chef.”
In a conscious effort to showcase the versatility of a single ingredient, the dual-effort Knife & Spoon series, which rotates on a eight week agenda, spans various produce from the obvious — fruits (Chapter 5: Pomology) and gamey meats (Chapter 7: Game of Poultry) — to those that lean more obscure — spices (Chapter 2: Spices and Aroma) and root veggies (Chapter 3: Life Beneath Earth). Now in Chapter 8, named Ocean Duet, the signature four-, six- and eight-course menus delve into the world of premium dried seafood and Chinese tonic ingredients, while also marking a partnership with time-honoured Traditional Chinese Medicine experts Chong Kio Farmacia Chinesa (CK) from Macau.
While each and every chapter ties back to a personal narrative that inspires both Hou and Choi, Chapter 8 has especially brought back fond, nostalgic memories of their grandmother’s cooking, in particular the herbal soups and medicinal stews that were made from a muscle-memorised family recipe. “It has taken us right back to when we decided that cooking was a passion,” Hou and Choi say of Ocean Duet. “We experienced first-hand the time and effort that goes behind a classic Chinese wellness-inspired meal and we are delighted to be able to reimagine them in a modern way.”
These days, Hou is finding the time to work on her own projects — “As always, I am studying, researching and testing new culinary concepts and creation,” she shares — in-between stringing together the perfect melody with her second passion, music.
Cheat Day with Devon Hou:
Food & Drink
What was the last meal you had?
A homemade potato waffle with pancetta and a poached egg.
Tell me some of your signature creations at COBO HOUSE.
My signature dishes are all offered at COBO HOUSE, including the pretzel bread with black garlic butter which is the appetiser for all menus. Other than that, I’d say it’s warm poach oyster with champagne berrue blanc and caviar, chocolate spiced marinated short ribs with chimichurri and the last one, local chuck steak with stout beef jus.
Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen?
I would say it’s fun to be with me in the kitchen. I have always been open to new ideas and comments from my team on our food creation journey. I love experimenting to explore what my pals and I can create.
What is your process behind creating a new menu?
Crazy ideas pop in my head anytime in life, no matter whether it’s in a dream or when I’m bathing. I try to make those ideas happen as soon as possible before they slip away.
What is your go-to home-cooked dish?
I love to make different kinds of dishes with pork, especially the traditional Hakka signature red yeast braised pork and preserved cabbage braised pork. It is my all-time, go-to homey dish.
You have 30 minutes! What will you make?
I will definitely go for one of my favourite dishes, carbonara. It’s easy, tasty and what’s most important: it makes me full.
Name the top three ingredients/condiments you currently own in your pantry.
1. Japanese egg
2. Banana shallot
What are your guilty pleasures?
I love all types of comfort food such as chocolate, cheese, deep fried items, etc. It seems that I have always needed to keep an eye on my cholesterol level.
The best meal you ever had?
A six-course dinner at EKSTEDT, a restaurant in Stockholm. They offer Nordic cuisine with impressive wood oven technique. The most memorable part is that they do different kinds of smoked dishes in a very simple and clean plating.
What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without?
What was your most memorable food moment?
Tapas with a sherry wine in Barcelona, super yummy!
Sweet or Savoury?
Where do you like to go on your day off?
I love to drive around, enjoy a cup of nice coffee and hang out with my two Yorkshire puppies.
The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong?
Our local food is the best of all time: barbecue pork, pineapple bun, grill pork neck, egg waffle and egg tarts.
Something you want to try while in Hong Kong?
I would really like to build my own brand or business in Hong Kong, the city is full of possibilities.
Reservation for Cobo House can be made here.
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