In a city where private kitchens flourish, part-time chef Rania Hatoum is striking a balance between a full time career and roles on the side.
At some point, every child is asked the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Each one replies with their favourite occupation or career path. Some aspire to become chefs, yet in real life the road to becoming part of a restaurant’s kitchen brigade often takes more than mere passion. A select few, with grit and perseverance, have carved out a path to becoming a chef on their own merit, while juggling a career. These private chefs are true masters of time management, and the fire they burn to keep their passion alive is ever so strong.
The elevator of an industrial building in Wong Chuk Hang spits us out into a dimly-lit corridor, and after a few turns in a maze-like complex, we arrive at RH Fine Dining, Rania Hatoum’s private kitchen-slash-bridal couture studio. A bridal gown designer by day, Hatoum’s referral-only private dinners are epic, and have been the talk of the town since she began working in Hong Kong as a part-time cuisinier, crafting luxurious dishes with precision, covering ingredients like caviar, truffles, and Japanese wagyu beef.
Not to be mistaken for an expat, Hatoum was born and raised in Hong Kong to an Egyptian-Chinese family. Growing up in a family with a fashion and textiles trading background, Hatoum completed a fashion degree in the United States. Despite a keen eye for detail and skilled technique in bridal fashion, Hatoum never gave up on her passion for the culinary arts. While she aimed to study at the US branch of Le Cordon Bleu, she eventually mastered the art of French cooking from her neighbour, a retired chef who offered her tutorials and hands-on cooking opportunities in the comfort of her home. “Having a neighbour who was such a good cook encouraged me to pursue my passion in food. I would learn all the techniques and skills, secrets and essentials, and bring them into practical use in dinner parties I hosted for friends,” Hatoum recalls.
Hatoum has also spent considerable time living in Tokyo, and found Japan’s dining mecca the perfect place to continue honing her skills. “Even in Tokyo I would shop at fish markets, visit restaurants, meet chefs and food suppliers. My love for Japanese produce was born there, and comes in handy when I can now easily get the freshest catch for my parties, from business dinners to gatherings for friends and family.” Hatoum’s culinary style fuses French cuisine with Japanese influences, easily reflected in her signature dishes such as the Hokkaido Sea scallop, served on a half shell with green peas, homegrown edible flowers and a caviar beurre blanc sauce. “The scallops from Hokkaido are the best; they are meaty and so tender even after a brief searing in a hot pan. Beurre blanc is one of the first sauces I learnt how to make, and it’s so versatile. Here I’ve enriched it with a little caviar from Plantin Kaviari, a local supplier I have worked closely with.”
The Golden Bowl, Hatoum’s latest creation, is like an edible treasure chest. It’s a deep glass bowl lined with Italian riso pasta cooked with cremini mushrooms and black truffle, as well as cubed foie gras. The creamy rice sets a bed where Japanese A5 wagyu beef, seared quiveringly medium-rare and pink, is ornately fanned atop. The luxurious dish is further garnished with a generous helping of sea urchin, salmon roe, Ossetra caviar and gold leaf. The dish is a true showstopper, one that builds on textures – caviar and creamy sea urchin melting into the truffled rice, while its umami is enhanced by the succulent wagyu beef. It is widely acclaimed by Hatoum’s guests, and is her husband’s personal favourite.
Aside from her private dinners, Hatoum also founded Tarte in 2019, a pastry business where she designs and crafts specialty tarts for retail. Her signature item is a caviar tarte, featuring a round, short buttery pastry case, with a chive crème fraîche filling and topped with Kaviari Ossetra caviar. Each tart also comes in a special wooden box that helps keep the shell crisp. It’s one of the most beloved items from her dinners, despite the menu changing every month.
Hatoum has set up @rh.finedining, an Instagram account designed specifically for her dinner parties and updates on monthly changes. She keeps her clientele base small, currently totalling about 150 individuals; exclusive private dinners are available by referral only. Despite her gatherings’ popularity, Hatoum is reluctant to take it to the next level and expand her dinners into a restaurant. “This (private dinners) is something I enjoy so much on the side of my bridal couture business. I have no plans to run a restaurant full time. I want to be able to enjoy making all of these dishes the way I’m doing it now, at my own pace, and designing the dishes in ways I’d love to showcase for my guests. It is always more fun to keep our parties small and private.” And just like that, Hatoum continues to keep the fire of her culinary passion burning, and we are certain she enjoys every minute of it.
PHOTOGRAPHER: GARY LI
ART DIRECTION: WILSON FOK & CHERRY LAI
Originally published in ECHELON Issue 8