Kitchen Pro Files: Hilton Manila’s New Executive Chef Ryan Hong

Chef Ryan Hong shares how he really familiarizes himself with the eating culture of the countries he's been to!

A new chef is in the city to helm none other than Hilton Manila‘s luxe lineup of in-house restos and dining services!

The hotel has recently named Chef Ryan Hong as its new Executive Chef to oversee the premium offerings of Hilton Manila’s dining outlets: Kusina Sea Kitchens, Hua Yuan Brasserie Chinoise, Madison, and Port Bar, the hotel’s in-room dining services as well as its banquets and catering, including weddings and corporate events.

The Korean-Australian Chef has over 15 years of culinary experience, championing kitchen teams in several hotels in Australia, South and Southeast Asia, and including tours in Jeju, Bangladesh, Phuket, and Sydney, just to name a few. He has also received several accolades including ‘Hotel Chef of the Year 2015,’ ‘Metro Restaurant of the Year 2015,’ and finalist for ‘Chef of the Year 2016’ in both Tourism Accommodation Australia and the Hotel Management Magazine.

Hilton Manila’s new Executive Chef Ryan Hong / Photo: Hilton Manila

In this edition of Kitchen Pro Files, you’ll get to know more about Chef Ryan Hong, his cooking, his current Filipino favorites, and more! Check out the highlights of our Q&A with Chef Ryan below:

Question: What made you realize that you wanted to be a chef?

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Chef Ryan: When I was young, I never do the same thing for more than six months. You know, when you’re young and you’re a high school student and you’re doing part-time jobs. I accidentally started working at my cousin’s Japanese restaurant, and I was surprised that I kept on doing this thing for more than six months. So I was thinking, what’s going on here?

But I would find out that even when you have the same recipe, same ingredients, and same atmosphere, sometimes the food comes out different. And you know, there are many options, you add one more ingredient and you can make different dishes. It actually made me fascinated, that’s why I think I’ve been doing this up until now.

Who are the people or what are the things that inspire your cooking?

Chef Ryan: There are no specific people or things that inspire me, but I get inspired by the culture. So I travel a lot, and even when I’m working for travels, I get inspired by each location’s culture and people’s culture, their eating cultures, and also the ingredients of their countries and cities. I even get inspired by grocery stores sometimes, or I get inspired by other chefs or even home cooks, especially nowadays with social media and the internet.

So where are you based right now, do you still travel a lot?

At the moment, I’m working so I’m based here in Manila. But if you know my working history, I’m a Korean-born guy who, when I was young, I’ve been in Canada, I was in Shanghai in China, and also moved to Australia and stayed there for about 16 years. I went to Thailand to work for about four years. I even went to Bangladesh for a few months, and actually went back to my home country. I worked in Korea for two years, in my hometown which is Jeju Island, and now I’m here in Manila.

Have you tried any Filipino food?

Yes! I’m loving it because I personally think that Filipino cuisine is the most underrated cuisine. If I really compare it with Thai food, sometimes they’re very similar. I was surprised, on my first day in Manila [I encountered] a kakanin and I was like, looking at it, ‘Oh this is Thai dessert.’ The coconut milk and sticky rice, they’re very similar. And I know it’s not the same, but in terms of soups, let’s say tom yung and sinigang, their sourness is similar, right? The spices and some other ingredients of course are different.

I’ve been enjoying it. I stay with my wife here and when we go out we go to Filipino restaurants and eat food like sisig. I’m kind of a beginner though, but I try to eat more as much as possible to understand.

Chef Ryan’s Lamington available at the Port Bar / Photo: Hilton Manila

So far, what’s your favorite Filipino dish?

I like the bopis, because I like the intestines and that bit of spiciness, I like that.

Which kinds of food or cuisine do you enjoy preparing the most?

To be honest with you, being a hotel chef, you should probably need to [enjoy preparing] almost everything. But my personal favorite is modern Australian, because I spent most of my career in Australia. But modern Australian is something I can’t really call Western food. Because in Australia, there are a lot of people from other countries, even Asians– Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, or even Filipinos, I’ve walked with a lot of Filipino people, and also with Europeans. So it’s kind of mixing Western food with a touch of an Asian twist. Those kinds of things I enjoy cooking, however, I’m happy to do anything in terms of what guests need.

How was it working with Hilton Manila?

It’s a pleasure and great that I’ve been enjoying every single moment. I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

When you’re not cooking, what do you do?

Going out, trying new things, and eating. Even after a long day of work, I try to order takeout items like Mang Inasal and even Jollibee, because in this culture I try to find out what local people actually like. You know those big franchises do a great job in terms of finding the flavor for the majority of people. That’s what I do, at minimum, let’s say once or twice a week, I order large franchises’ food and then eat them and try to remember and try to study.

And on the other hand, if I have time to actually go out, sometimes I go to Korean restaurants here, let’s say Koreantown, and try to compare the Korean restaurants in a local area. So it’s all about me making comparisons and trying to find out how to match the locals’ favorites and the Western audiences.

So you’re really studying the taste of the people here.

Yes, because the majority of my guests are among the locals so I need to study this.

Do you have a favorite ingredient to use in the kitchen?

Everything. But especially the fresh produce, the locally sourced and locally-grown [ingredients], rather than imported. So I like the carrots from Baguio, the potatoes and chili from Baguio and certain areas. It actually makes me more motivated and gives me more inspiration because they’re fresh vegetables and fruits from this land. And it has to be fresher because it’s less transportation time and they harvest it in season.

Chef Ryan’s Fudgy Vegan Brownie made with Malagos chocolate.

If you could eat just one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That’s a hard question… Okay, I choose the Filipino dish, sisig with rice.

Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs who’d like to be as accomplished as you?

Being a chef is quite a tough job, you won’t survive without passion. In one certain stage, you will think, ‘Why am I doing this? Why did I start this?’ There’s a lot of competition as well. So it needs a lot of hard work and studying. Even after 20 years of cooking, I’m also still studying every day. I’m still thinking of what should I create? Or how should I create? You know, like an artist or musician, creating new songs or paintings. Chefs need to be creating something almost every day, based on whatever they have.

Sometimes it’s very challenging, but of course, very rewarding as well. But you actually need to have a passion for food and really focus on your career. I’m pretty sure whoever’s starting in this career, of course, they don’t want to be beginners until the end, right? They want to reach the top. To reach the top, it’s a very patient and hard way, but if you have passion and dreams, and every day is one step forward, I think everyone can one day achieve their dreams.

Hilton Manila is located at 1 Newport Blvd., Newport City in Pasay, Manila. For inquiries and reservations, visit hiltonmanila.com or call +632 239 7788. For more updates, follow Hilton Manila on Facebook and Instagram.

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