Root Three: an interview with Chef Jessie and Chef Tony
20 Jun 2019
The newest restaurant hosted by PMQ Kitchen, Root Three is a new culture-pot concept by Chef Jessie, Chef Tony and Charlene, the manager who in this interview will explain the story behind their name. Hongkonger’s roots, The Third Plate and the wholesome mother’s home food that inspired them. There’s no better time but now to celebrate the best of what “Home Kong” has to offer.
What does the restaurant name Root Three stand for?
Charlene (manager): The ‘root’ refers to the root flavours inside us growing up in Hong Kong. We have street food, the cheap eats, the mother’s cooking. Many of our dishes are Italian staples but with local ingredients and flavours. We have dried radish frittata inspired by ‘choi poi dan’, a dish that you would find in a casual eatery in Hong Kong. As for “Three” firstly we refer to the fact that it's a concept from the three of us. But secondly its on the concept of the “The Third Plate”
Could you briefly explain to us the concept of The Third Plate?
Charlene: The chefs believe in the concept of the The Third Plate by Dan Barber. It’s got a little bit of farm-to-table, but on top of that we want to reduce how we consume proteins or meats in their daily meals. A lot of nutrition can be provided by plant-based and seafood-based dishes. It’s not a vegetarian concept, as we use octopus and fish mostly for the main dishes.
How does it translate in Root Three’s menu?
Chef Jessie: We usually don’t use that much meat in our dishes. You’ll see our menu doesn’t have any pork or steak entrees, mostly we have pasta, risotto or seafood. I think apart from the duck ragu there isn’t much meat used. Everything else is vegetarian or seafood-based.
Chef Tony: We usually use meat only for certain purposes like for the gravy or sauces. We only need just enough to provide flavour, we don’t need to use too much.
What are some aspirations for Root Three?
Chef Jessie: We want to test out the success of The Third Plate in the Hong Kong market. It’s not a concept familar to Hongkongers. When its comes to modernised or westernised cuisine, Hong Kong diners aren’t so interested in specialised dishes. The trend now is quite ‘greedy’ so to speak, they want everything in one restaurant. They want pasta, roast chicken, steak, fish mains, they want every option in one menu. So our concept of sticking to a simpler less-meat centric menu is rather new to Hong Kong people. We hope they can see that you don’t need all kinds of meat in everything.
So let’s get back to the core: how did you decide to become a chef and how did you meet?
Chef Jessie: Originally I was studying economics in England. But in my final year I realised that I didn’t want to work in an office job. I wanted to cook. Cooking has always been in my blood. My mother and grandmother are fantastic cooks and me, being quite picky, have always been interested in food. So when I returned to Hong Kong I started working in a small bistro in New Territories and then went on to Locanda Dell Angelo in Happy Valley where I cut my teeth with Italian cuisine. After that I started working in 8 ½ Otto E Mezzo Bombana where I met Chef Tony. It wasn’t always easy to convince my family about my aspirations. In Chinese-Hong Kong culture, it’s not so pleasant for women to work in the kitchen for a living. But I went with it.
Chef Tony: I worked in a big company, sitting in a small office from nine-to-five, working in maintenance. Sitting there for a long time, I decided I will go back to cooking, something I loved as a child. I started my chef journey as a pastry chef in Mongkok. I went on to cut my teeth in an Italian restaurant where I learned how to cook a variety of Italian dishes. Eventually I met Chef Jessie at 8 ½ Otto E Mezzo Bombana as she mentioned earlier.
What are some of your most memorable dishes in the menu?
Chef Jessie: “The Caprese”. A caprese salad is a very traditional Italian salad with burrata, basil, pine nuts and fresh tomatoes. But we have a bit of a twist: the tomato is replaced with a tomato granita. It’s like tomato shaved ice. How I came about this dish... I was inspired by something I tried during my travels through Italy. I was in a town called Lucca in Italy, I was there for three days, and I went to the same restaurant three days in a row. They had this very caprese salad with tomato granita, although my version uses basil oil rather than dressing. One of the biggest ideas behind Root Three is to bring back our memories, of our own stories… reimagining memories and of things we loved eating.. Into our dishes. This was one of the dishes that made me want to become an Italian dish.
We tried this caprese salad. It is out of this world. Really amazing how delicate the flavours are while the texture remains just as playful as the original. The basil oil is heavenly. We really recommend trying this dish during this pop-up!
Chef Tony: For me it's the fried rice cake ice cream dessert. Starting out as a pastry chef, my focus is often in the pastry. This dessert is from a childhood memory of fried rice cake, a type of biscuit similar to the iconic almond biscuits. The rice version is very old, very traditional, and very Hong Kong-- it’s much harder to find. It’s a long process to take a childhood memory into a fine dining dish. In a way, this dessert is my baby. As I started this restaurant I realise that many Hongkongers themselves have never tried the original fried rice cake. It’s quite common to try in the countryside area, but in the city, not many of the youngsters have tried it.
We then tried the fried rice cake dessert and it was really really different to anything we had before. We expected a crumbly muted flavour, but the actual flavour was incredibly nutty and very deep. Nearly hard to imagine that it’s actually ice-cream really. Along with the peanuts and sesame, the dessert was full of texture and wholesome in many more ways than one.