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  1. Luxury
May 4, 2024

‘Food should bring you memories’: Hakkasan’s Andrew Yeo on the joy of cooking and why the brand is stronger than ever

The corporate executive chief tells Spear's about learning to cook from his grandmother and why Hakkasan's future is bright as the brand goes global

By Suzanne Elliott

More than 20 years old from its inception, Hakkasan remains an iconic name in London. The modern Cantonese menus at the original Fitzrovia outpost and its sister site in Mayfair are credited with helping shape an increasingly diverse and world-class culinary scene in the capital. 

However, the Hakkasan name was dealt a blow earlier this year when both the original Hanway Place and Mayfair restaurants were stripped of the Michelin stars they had held for 20 and 10 years, respectively. 

This loss might have come as a blow to the celebrated restaurant and its team, not least corporate executive chef Andrew Yeo. But it does not appear to have dented Yeo’s optimism or enthusiasm for an art he so obviously loves. 

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Hakkasan’s original restaurant in Hanway Place

‘I’m very proud’

Chef Yeo, who joined the Hakkasan team months before lockdown decimated the hospitality industry, is used to challenges and says the brand is ‘stronger’ than ever. 

‘We survived lockdown, and we became stronger,’ he says , pointing to the flurry of global openings in the past three years. There are a total of 13 Hakkasan restaurants worldwide, scattered from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi; Bodrum to Shanghai. 

Yeo continued: ‘Hakkasan as a brand is strong and of course we are under the big umbrella of the Tao Group Hospitality. So I’m very proud and happy to be part of it.’

Although he does not address the Michelin star loss directly, he acknowledges the difficult environment facing many London restaurants in the post-Covid era. 

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[See also: Best restaurants in Mayfair]

‘It’s a tough time for everybody, a very tough time, the last year especially for London restaurants,’ he says. ‘But we just need people to be out to experience it and I hope I’m contributing back to [the experience].’

Yeo’s journey began as a child in the ‘culinary paradise’ of Singapore, under the mentorship of his grandmother. ‘She’s the one that really knew how to cook,’ he recalls. Together they would spend weekends cooking and baking, and sampling Western recipes she had picked up from her international group of friends. 

Hakkasan serves modern Chinese cuisine fused with a Western upscale dining experience

Going global

It was his grandmother who encouraged him to enrol in culinary school when he was still a teenager. 

‘My grandma said “do what you like and grow and you’ll do well”,’ he says. And his career has made her, and his mother, ‘very proud’.

A jet-set career followed, starting at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore where he was given the opportunity to travel. He went on to work on new openings across the US, Hong Kong and Shanghai, before a stint at The EDITION Miami South Beach – his final stint before moving to Hakkasan London in 2019.

In his role, Yeo is tasked with devising the signature menu for Hakkasan restaurants globally, alongside his head chef and sous chef. Although hero dishes remain the same, the ingredients are adapted slightly to accommodate local palates.

[See also: ‘Now is only the beginning’: Chef Alain Ducasse on how he went from living in a yard to gaining 21 Michelin stars]

‘In Turkey it could be a bit more spicy, or India, especially in India, it will be spicier. We adapt and we allow,’ explains Yeo, who tries to visit each outpost at least once a year. 

‘We come out with dishes, every season, or on special occasions, and I always like to work together with them to create something we think is good enough for the guests.’ 

On the week of this interview, Yeo has just unveiled the Hakkasan spring menu, which will sit alongside perennial favourites like the pillowy dim sum and tofu, aubergine and Japanese mushroom claypot.

Founded in London in 2001, Hakkasan now has locations around the world

On the occasions when the menus don’t work out, Yeo is ready to accept responsibility. He reflects on one dish he served that showcased salmon cooked using a new technique that left the fish looking uncooked. It proved disastrous: diners sent it back, thinking it was raw. 

The mistake, Yeo says, was his, not his guests, and it was a lesson he has learned from. ‘It’s important to know your client, where you are, you want to be innovative, but you have to do right by the right clientele.’ 

Food of love

More than awards – perhaps even more than Michelin stars –  Yeo wants people to love his food.

‘That’s the joy. The joy is not really creating and mingling the kitchen, I think the joy is when you walk out of the restaurant and people are talking about the food. I once heard a guest say: “oh my god, this reminds me of my grandma”. I think that’s all you want; food should be able to bring you memories. That’s what we need. I’ve been to a few Michelin restaurants and I’ll walk out and I say “what did I eat from my first course?” I don’t remember. But if you go to a good restaurant, you come by and say “I remember that one dish”.’

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