We talk to millennial chefs Ray Choi and Devon Hou of Cobo House about their shared vision, differences and working as a duo.
Since the launch of the experiences, a series of thematic menus that change regularly, chef duo Ray Choi and Devon Hou have been taking diners on gourmet trips around the world.
Choi and Hou joined Cobo House for the restaurant’s revamp at K11 Musea, where they conceptualise menus that transcend cuisines and defy gastronomic conventions. Although they both come from the world of haute cuisine and worked in some of Hong Kong’s most celebrated restaurants, at Cobo House their personalities shine through the dishes.
We recently caught up with Choi and Hou to discuss their relationship in the kitchen, the challenges of working as a duo of head chefs and future plans for the restaurant.
How did you start working together and become a duo?
DEVON HOU: We worked together in the past. We met 10 years ago at Mandarin Oriental when we were both commis chefs in the kitchen. We also studied in the same school 15 or 16 years ago. When I was at Tate Dining Room, I asked Ray to join us because I liked
working with him. We worked together for three or four years in management positions and we became friends, more than just colleagues.
RAY CHOI: K11 invited us individually, but we really wanted to be a duo, so we were really confident we could do something good together.
How does Cobo House represent both of you as people?
DH: We’re a lot like yin and yang. I’m an extrovert, while Ray is an introvert. We have different characters and we’re very different as executive chefs, so we complement each other in that sense, and it shows in the dishes. For example, I’m the one with the crazy, nutty ideas, and Ray is more about technical execution. Our goals are often aligned but we use our talent in different ways. I’d say we use more of his hands and my brain. We both like to be challenged and use ingredients and combinations that we didn’t use and experiment with in our previous roles.
RC: We both want to surprise guests – that’s why we have different chapters and themes. We both want to do things that could be hard to find other restaurants.
How do you conceptualise each menu?
DH: We do a lot of research and take inspiration from travels and personal experiences, but also from the art we have here in the restaurant – we’re very inspired by our surroundings.
RC: After we agree on a theme, we each take care of three or four courses, like, we normally have to add courses. We then decide the main ingredient for the different dishes. We finally come together to discuss problems and share our opinions.
Do you disagree often?
DH: Sometimes we have different opinions, but we rarely disagree completely and we’ve never argued. It can take a long time to finalise a dish, as I can be very picky.
RC: We know each other very well, so we both know what the other person likes or dislikes.
Is it hard to integrate your creativity with someone else’s?
RC: Not really. We have a very similar vision, so we both leave the other person space to explore their creativity and try things out.
You’re both young but established. Do you think you represent a new generation of Hong Kong chefs?
DH: Hong Kong is fast-paced. As Hong Kong chefs, we need to evolve and adapt every day. That’s what Cobo House is all about. I worked in London for two years and it’s very different, because Europeans are very stubborn, while people here are more open-minded. I think our generation is also more willing to try different things and dare more. We’re outspoken and this reflects our style in the kitchen. We also keep learning from other restaurants, all the time. We love doing collaborations, and being open-minded as well.
Tell us about your next chapter.
DH: The next chapter will be all about legumes. It will be all about textures and different ways of using them.
Do you have a vision for the future of Cobo House?
RC: We definitely want to keep the chapters concept going. It’s fun for us, to be honest, and challenging in a good way. It’s also a great way to entertain and surprise diners. With our chocolate menu, for example, we created an interactive and sort of educational experience, something memorable.
What are your favourite cuisines?
RC: Japanese and Scandinavian, for sure!
DH: Spanish and Japanese.