Bringing a fresh eye and contemporary menu to 22 Ships
Aaron Gillespie, the young, talented and tattooed executive chef of 22 Ships, was hand-picked by Jason Atherton because Atherton knew Gillespie’s approach to dining was fresh and exciting. With a resume featuring Michelin-starred restos such as Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsey and La Brasserie (both in Dubai), we just had to find out more about what makes this chef work his magic.
Almost every chef I know has at least one tattoo. What is it about tattoos that attract chefs to getting them?
For the most part, chefs are creative and have an artistic side. You’re open to design and appreciate aesthetics. Getting a tattoo is an extension of that. More so, tattoos have become more socially acceptable over the past decade.
What do you cook when you’re just hanging out with your friends?
When you’re cooking with friends, the best way to go about it setting your mind to creating something quick and easy. I love to do tacos – it’s a step away from the food we do at 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry, so I’m not doing ‘work food.’ They’re a killer way to use up heaps of beautiful ingredients too. If I’m trying to impress though, that’s another story…
Got any good kitchen disaster stories?
Probably the most memorable one was when I worked in Dubai. We were opening Bread Street Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay was giving a kitchen tour to some VERY VIP guests. The whole kitchen was silent as he took them through, but one of our Sous Chefs had his back turned… He was shouting and swearing at another chef at the top of his lungs. He loves a good swear, but I’ll never forget the look on Gordon’s face!
Can you tell us three of your favourite wines you can buy here in HK? Where do you get them?
One of the perks about working in the hospitality industry is that you get to know about some cool drops.
I love the Hentley Farm Shiraz from Barossa Valley. Keep your eyes peeled for it on wine lists when you’re next out.
We work late hours at 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry (it’s a labour of love!), but if I’m lucky enough away a little early, I go to Aberdeen Street Social for a knock off drink. Their GM Ryan Nightingale (also a mate), was named the best in Hong Kong by Chivas Regal (a big deal!), and makes an excellent cocktail. It’s a classic list, but with a cool spin. I live around the corner, so it’s an easy stop off.
If I am drinking at home, I will grab some Cooper’s Pale Ale. Or, I’ve heard of a start up called Wine Brothers, where you subscribe to wines, and have box of boutique Australian ones delivered to your door. So there’s always wine at home… win!
What’s your favourite local restaurant?
Sun Hing in Kennedy Town for dim sum at 3am. You could also go earlier, but if you work late, you need late night bites. Yat Lok in Central for roast goose is a given. The brunch menu at Commissary is epic too – with pancakes, eggs, tacos and burgers – everyone at your table is sorted.
Other than cooking, what do you like to do at the weekend?
I’m a chef! My weekends are during the week, which oddly works, because you can go places like the beaches on the south side of the island without much traffic. If I had a Saturday or Sunday off, I would probably go to Potato Head with mates. That space is transporting. It’s Bali without the airfare or transit time.
Read more: An Indonesian Brunch At Kaum Potato Head
Who’s your celebrity chef crush?
Never met him but Anthony Bourdain seems like a pretty cool dude – I would love to hear some of his stories.
Got any easy recipes you’d like to share?
This is a killer Piri Piri sauce you can make and use as a marinade for your summer BBQ. Save a little and brush it on the meat while you’re grilling.
Piri Piri Sauce
10 x hot chilli
120 ml lemon juice
2 tbsp coriander chopped
1 tbsp Parsley chopped
5 x garlic Cloves
120 ml Peanut oil
Blend all the ingredients in food processor and add peanut oil slowly.
Where do you think food trends are headed?
We need to stick with what’s currently ‘vibing’ – more sustainability, less waste in cooking and eating.
Tell us something about yourself that isn’t widely known.
I love to play my Banjo, I love music and I think if I wasn’t cooking I’d be in the music industry.
Do your friends take advantage of the fact that you’re a chef? If so, how?
Probably… I would! I always get roped into cooking at BBQs.
Who’s your mentor?
Mentors change over the years, I’ve been lucky to work with the people that I have. Jason Atherton is a great mentor to me now.
What has influenced your style of cooking most?
Travelling. I recently came back from Osaka and Kyoto, so expect to see some Japanese inspired specials soon. The produce is incredible, because the environment is so pure.
Who would you like to have dinner with? Why?
Easy – my family. I miss sitting around the dinner table with them. I used to visit them every week on a Monday and my mum would always cook. It’s the little things.
What do you cook with here in Hong Kong you don’t normally use elsewhere? Why?
You can get anything in Hong Kong. It’s in the middle of the world, and that’s awesome, but sometimes the pricing is intense.
Right now I am really excited about the truffles from Western Australia – the climate there is perfect for their growth, and they’re being brought into Hong Kong for a good price, which means we can create cool and approachable dishes for our guests.
Do you have a simple tip that could help people who like cooking at home?
Get a good chef’s knife and learn how to keep it sharp. Makes all the difference. So often kitchen or knife injuries come from using a dull knife. This is a no! You apply more pressure and end up hurting yourself.
When hiring someone, what’s the one thing they MUST possess in order to work with you?
A good sense of humour is important working with me. The kitchen at 22 Ships is fun! We’re an open kitchen and interact easily with our guests. Some of our regulars will call in just to eat at the bar – they’ll be alone, and it’s good to throw some banter back and forth.
Being passionate about food is essential. Skills can be taught but passion is something you need to be able to survive in the industry.
Do you ever get sick of cooking?
I don’t. I relish my days off to recharge, but cooking is a way to show care, and if you can do that every day, that’s good for me.
How do you find inspiration for new dishes?
So much of it comes from what you see and what surrounds. It might be the weather or a change in seasons and subsequent produce. When you travel you’re exposed to different ways of eating and drinking. It keeps your repertoire fresh.
If you could prepare a meal for one person, who would that be (living or dead)? Why?
I know she’s married, but Gisele Bündchen – best way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach, right?
Photos courtesy of Joyce Ravara