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Thanksgiving With Henry's Chef Mario Tolentino

With Thanksgiving coming up, we speak to chef Mario Tolentino of Henry at The Rosewood about his niche in the industry, the many facets of American cuisine and what feast he has in store for us to celebrate Thanksgiving.

November 16, 2021

Crisp autumn air, wind carrying the ruffling golden amber leaves, lingering aromas of pumpkin spice, roasted chestnuts and smoked wood—in the United States, these are the first signs that fall has arrived. But by the end of November, just for a few days, new aromas take over, that of roasted turkey, casseroles, stuffing, and pecan pie. Those are some of the iconic dishes presented on Thanksgiving, a time where family and friends come together. Ahead of the wonderful holiday, often celebrated in Hong Kong with “Friendsgiving”, we speak to chef Mario Tolentino, the newly-appointed Chef de Cuisine of HENRY at The Rosewood, about his many creative projects throughout the United States, his goal to demystify American cuisine, and what to expect at the popular American steakhouse’s upcoming Thanksgiving feast.


First of all welcome to Hong Kong! You recently arrived from Los Angeles to become the Chef de Cuisine of Rosewood Hong Kong’s HENRY, can you tell us a little bit about your cooking career?

I was born and raised in San Francisco and started off my career in high-end fine dining, working for [celebrity] chef Michael Mina then eventually started opening restaurants for the group. I did many years in Miami, a stint in New Orleans, spent time in Barcelona then started my first personal chef business in Hawaii on the Big Island before heading off to New York City. Over there I got my first executive chef job and my first turnaround job which really set the path as what I decided would be my niche, a person who rebrands and revamps or launches new concepts.

And then back to the West Coast?

First I went back to Miami where I did two big hotels back to back but then I wanted to go back to the independent restaurant scene. I saw the shift that was going on in San Francisco and I decided to go back to my hometown. I had great projects, I turned around a Southeast Asian restaurant and then went in a completely different direction. I was the culinary director of The Market on Market on the ground floor of the Twitter building, where I created a 21,000 sq.ft marketplace, similar to Hong Kong’s Central Market. I ran and operated seven concepts there, and brought in six subtenants. It was a big gentrification project. All the big tech companies like Uber were there so it was very visible. As a hometown kid, it really was a very personal project in the sense that I was giving back to the city by creating a community hub.

Then LA was having this boom. I could see it happening, I travel a lot so I’m always on the pulse of what’s happening in all these different cities, I keep track of what’s hot and what’s not and I saw what was happening in LA. All the young up-and-comers were taking their fine dining training and doing cool Cantonese-style, Mexican-style, Korean-style food. I was intrigued and enthralled. I also did this cool project with Verve Coffee Roasters in the Arts District which was booming and was the coolest place to open a restaurant.

So how did you end up in Hong Kong?

A serendipitous turn of events made it that an old colleague working at Rosewood asked me to join the Hong Kong team. I had done a few stints overseas but never made the big jump. But I don’t think this opportunity would have been there without COVID, I might not have been in the position where I would have wanted to make the leap. At the beginning of the pandemic I wanted to stick to my guns and not have to take just any job. I kept telling myself “Don’t be desperate, just wait it out.” and I thought I would come out of it better off than I came into it and for me, the opportunity in HK and stepping on an international stage, certainly felt like that. I felt it was worth working with an elite company like Rosewood who is on a mission to take over the top spot of luxury and hotels. Their concepts are amazing, they know exactly what they’re doing when they enter a new market, and that was my niche specialty so I decided to jump in.

So far, what are some of the things that have stood out to you about Hong Kong?

I didn’t think that there would be a Rolex, Gucci, Hermes store at every corner. The opulence is like nothing I have ever seen! I obviously love the dining scene, I hit the ground running when it came to that. Not just the big hot spots but the mom-and-pop spots. When I go to a new city, I am never there to be a spectator, I am there to be part of the culinary community, 

I think one of the things that I want to portray as a voice through Henry in Rosewood is what is American cuisine. From the small amount of time here, it is very apparent that people here don’t have a clear idea. Living all over those cities...they are all multi-cultural places, that’s one of the things you don’t see as part of the perception of what is America. It is still a place with tons of immigrants. I am first generation in the US, my mom moved to the country as an immigrant. That immigrant story is the American story. 

You were the winner of Chopped Season 4 in 2010 and competed on Recipe for Deception in 2016, what are some of your best memories from the shows?

I joined Chopped after I moved to New York City and I was thinking about how I was going to make a big splash. It skyrocketed my career into a whole other level and for the first time I was the chef being hired to do the concepts. But I never set out to be a TV personality, it’s not the path that I chose to do, though I’m sure a lot of people would have liked me to. It’s a great tool, using those platforms to showcase your abilities, get a message across, it’s part of pop culture. But in the end I’m a chef, I’m an entrepreneur.

Can you describe your cooking style in three words?

Flavourful, creative and cultural.

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

A lot of what I do is based on my passions, and they’re successful because I have an intimate connection with them, and it almost always comes from travel. In the United States, I had a pop up series called Point Of View that I did once a year. I immerse myself in a point of view based on a recent trip and I incorporate art, music, food and interior design into a one-night experience. They’re a big creative outlet for me. When you work in a restaurant there is a lot more to your day to day than food. I’m an incredibly creative person and being a chef isn’t always enough so this project is very important to me.

What is one that particularly stood out?

Point of View Volume I was based on travels throughout Southeast Asia, I had incorporated my own photography, I had an empty space and an interior designer transformed it to make it look like you were in a hutong. I had scooters, I brought in an artist, live DJ and I teamed up with well known mixologists and collaborated with other chefs. It’s a true experience.

What are five ingredients that you absolutely must have in your kitchen?

I’m very spice heavy, I like to incorporate a lot of flavour in my dishes. I think one of the misconceptions about American cuisine is that not enough spice is used, but I plan to change that. Black garlic, Calabrian chilis, different types of curry powders, I love it all.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, can you tell us what this holiday means to you and what some of your favourite memories are?

It’s the foundation of the beginning of the holiday season for us. It’s when you come together with friends and family, Friendsgiving is really big if you aren’t with family. It’s a time to overindulge! We like to do potluck-style where everyone brings a dish or two.

You will be cooking a Thanksgiving feast for guests on the 24-26 of November, how will this feast differ from the one you are used to back home?

One of the things I wanted to do was bring the flavours of home. It’s basically an updated modern take on traditional Thanskgiving dishes. There is a nostalgia that comes with Thanksgiving. It’s not just about the meal, it’s about friends and family and you associate those flavours to friends and family, so I wanted to bring that to people here.


Chef Mario Tolentino’s Thanksgiving feast will be a 3-course meal priced at HKD1,198 + 10% per person. Expect to see appetisers such as deviled Japanese eggs or crispy pork crackling and mains such as the traditional roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing or 10oz. New York Strip steak with black winter Perigord truffle veal jus. And of course, the highlights of a Thanksgiving meal are the comforting side dishes, which will include roasted garlic potato purée, Brussel sprouts and truffle mac & cheese. And if you think it’s over, it’s not, because Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without desserts with autumn flavours which chef Mario reimagined in the form of Basque-style pumpkin cheesecake, apple pecan crisp and more. Just remember, when you think you have had enough, you have only just scratched the surface.