With a passion for food, Devon Hou uses her role as a chef to bring cultures and people together.
Humble and honest, Devon Hou pairs her love of homely food with a desire to expand and explore Hong Kong’s unique culinary culture. Currently the Head Chef and Head of Business Development at Test Kitchen, her role involves bringing talented chefs from all over the globe and working together to apply their flavours to the Hong Kong market. With a knack for sourcing the freshest seasonal ingredients in local food markets, her dishes are timely and intentional. From dim sum lunches with her mum, to coffee and pudding with her partner and their two pups (aptly named Coffee and Pudding), we chat to Devon about a typical week and what she loves doing to unwind. She shares her inspirations, her alternative career aspirations and opens up about her personal goals for 2020.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been living in Hong Kong?
I was born and raised in this city and am a local Hongkonger through and through. I’ve lived here for over 30 years of my life, only moving away from the age of 29 to 31 when I was working as a chef in Goring Hotel and at Camino in King’s Cross, London.
I started my culinary career at Amber in the Mandarin Oriental for just over three years. I’ve had a 15-year career as a chef and loved how much I’ve learnt and been challenged. It’s included plenty of different restaurants and developing plenty of different skills.
You’re the chef of Test Kitchen, can you tell us a little more about your work? What encouraged you to become a chef?
I’m head chef and head of business development at Test Kitchen. I’m in charge of all the private events and catering, and I also assist visiting chefs at our pop-ups. I love this part of the job as it means I work alongside some of the world’s most talented chefs. This past year I’ve cooked with the likes of Kwame Onuachi and Eelke Plasmeijer. I take real pleasure in helping them to convert their menus to use Hong Kong ingredients.
I didn’t enjoy cooking at all as a child, but when I was 14 or 15, my home economics teacher changed my life. I remember making a traditional Chinese dish – aubergine with minced pork. It was simple and made using local ingredients, so it felt just like home cooking. Her teaching methods and interest in her students was fantastic. Looking back, I never knew she’d be a person who’d play such a significant role in my career. Miss Chiu’s teaching style was inspiring and it made me fall in love with cooking. Her support is a huge part of what led me to become a chef.
There’s so much that comes with being a chef. Can you share your most meaningful milestone?
I found my time at the Mandarin as a commis chef to be very meaningful. Working for Richard Ekkebus was a real privilege. It was early in my career, but learning from a mentor like that is invaluable. Amber was my first full-time job and, by taking small steps over the last 15 years, it’s led me to develop new artistic instincts.
What about your biggest milestone outside the kitchen?
Definitely not related to being a chef, but another passion of mine is music. I’m grade seven in piano and love how it calms me. I’ve also been learning the drums for three years and think it’s time to get another certificate there.
What does a typical week look like for you?
I’m sure everyone says this, but no two weeks are the same for me. At Test Kitchen, I’m not just a head chef preparing a regular menu day to day. Our events are so different that I could be researching a chef, experimenting with a recipe adjustment to utilise Hong Kong ingredients, or brainstorming for my own cooking event. I visit Hong Kong’s local food markets regularly to see what is on offer. Every day is challenging but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding!
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
I’ve been learning a musical instrument since I was in kindergarten. If I wasn’t a a chef, I would have been a musician. My taste in music is pretty diverse, including everything from rock and roll, to R&B and Canto pop…you name it and I’ll play it!
What do you do in your downtime?
Aside from playing music (it’s one of my favourite ways to relax after a long day), I also enjoy spending time with my partner and our two dogs. They’re six-month and five-year-old Yorkies. I like to escape the city and head to Sai Kung with them. I live near West Kowloon Cultural District which is great for exploring with pups. We like to sit outside on the grass with Pudding and Coffee, enjoying their namesake treats.
What are three things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day-to-day?
- Eating something. Something good. It completely depends on what I feel like that day. I enjoy dinners with the whole family on Sundays and grabbing quick dim sum lunches with my mum.
- Playing instruments – the piano, drums, guitar or anything else I can get my hands on.
- Chilling with my doggies somewhere with green open space (we all need to escape the “city” vibe every once in a while).
We love what Test Kitchen stands for. Do you have any ideas for growing the brand?
Besides doing pop-ups with chefs from different countries, I would love to do more of my own private pop-up experiences. It would be awesome to do a pop-up the other way around, going to other countries to bring a taste of Hong Kong to them.
I’d also love to showcase more female chefs from Hong Kong. There are a lot of amazing women creating fantastic food right here in our city.
What makes Hong Kong feel like home for you? Being born and raised here, what do you think makes someone a Hongkonger?
The markets haven’t changed. Shopping in the wet market is still the same as when I was a kid. I just love the welcoming spirit of the city. It’s easy to meet new people. Hongkongers also have a real love of food, which obviously resonates with me.
What are 5 personal goals you have for this year?
- Establishing Test Kitchen as a location for talented, home-grown, local chefs, not just international personalities.
- Our pop-ups and collaborations with local chefs have been extremely popular so I’d like to build on that and showcase Hong Kong talent to the public more.
- Setting myself a fitness goal. I’d like to take up boxing or find time to play more sports, like basketball.
- Running my own pop-up outside of Hong Kong…something totally different to anything I’ve done before. Bringing my interpretation of Hong Kong cooking to another city would be really meaningful to me. Watch this space!
- I’d like to travel to an entirely new destination this year, to see and experience things I’ve not seen before. I haven’t decided where yet!
What are your favourite dishes to eat at home or out? Any favourite restaurants?
In Hong Kong, I love Pica Pica – it’s great spot to watch the world go by, and the quality of Spanish food is the best I’ve experienced here.
On a global scale, my favourite restaurant is a Scandinavian restaurant in Stockholm, Ekstedt.
I would say carbonara is my all-time favourite dish. It’s the ultimate comfort food – I often cook it myself at home, but if it’s on a restaurant menu and I’m in need of a classic, it’s my go-to.
How do you envision your career growing in the next one, five, 10 years?
I would like to experience more of the dining scene outside Hong Kong in 2020 and I want to open my own cafe or restaurant eventually. For now, I’m happy to be learning, but it’s always good to have a five to 10 year vision!
If you had one piece of advice to give to people out there chasing their dreams, what would it be?
As a female chef, I would urge people to not let gender or dated social norms come in the way of chasing their dreams, regardless of other people’s opinion.