Ahead of the most wonderful time of the year, five of the city’s top chefs and mixologists invite us behind their culinary curtains and open up about some of their favourite holiday memories. We speak to Belon's new head chef Matthew Kirkley about Thanksgiving and the flavours of autumn.
Black Sheep Restaurants’ neo-Parisian restaurant moved into its Joyce Wang Studio-designed Elgin Street home in March and has since undergone a thrilling rebirth. New head chef and Baltimore native Matthew Kirkley, who took the baton from Daniel Calvert, has guided illustrious American eateries including San Francisco’s Coi and Chicago’s L2O to a total of six Michelin stars over two decades. At Belon, he has spun culinary magic once again by marrying the restaurant’s renowned classically minded sensibilities with refreshingly delicate artistry and interpretations inspired by his past. Yet away from the whirlwind of the kitchen, in the Kirkleys' third year of calling Hong Kong home, nothing is as valuable as family time.
How did you first discover and hone your passion for cooking?
There’s no short version of the story, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d say I just fell in love with some of the world’s greatest chefs after reading their cookbooks. I grew up in Baltimore, a world away from fine-dining restaurants and Michelin stars, but I’ve always been an avid reader. When I was just a kid working in some no-name chain restaurant, I stumbled across The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller and it opened my eyes to a completely different side of working in the kitchen. I learned that cooking could be a venerable profession, and that it had all these unknown rules and techniques I had no idea about. I was hooked, and from then on it was just a lot of hard work and dedication.
What do you love most about the holidays?
Around the holiday season in the city, especially in big cities, it can be challenging to slow down and take in even the smallest moments. But one thing I look forward to is making cookies with my eldest daughter. She’s six now, turning seven this year, but this is a small way to spend time together and make the holiday season a little brighter. Plus she thinks I’m pretty good at icing the cookies!
What are some things that evoke the memories of festivities back home?
For those of us from the United States, things that never fail to remind me of the holidays are nutmeg, cinnamon or clove. While these aren’t spices or flavours that strongly influence my cooking during the remainder of the year, holidays are the time of the year when I use them.
How do you like to ring in the festive season?
Maybe it’s because of our chosen careers, with me always being in the kitchen and my wife Lauren [Belon’s general manager] leading the front-of-house team, but we don’t usually entertain at home. We’re restaurant people and we like to go out! I’m generally in the restaurant for the holidays, serving the guests who choose to celebrate with us. But if I were to do something else, I’d have to say that the secret to a great festive dinner party is to go to your favourite restaurant and let them do the cooking, the serving and the wash-up for you.
For Thanksgiving and Christmas, [if we’re home] Lauren will usually make an amazing charcuterie board and we’ll treat ourselves to a nice bottle of white Burgundy. It’s simple, doesn’t require any cooking—and who doesn’t love a nice cured meat or cheese to go with a few glasses of wine?
Belon, 1st Floor, 1-5 Elgin St, Central; +852 2152 2872