Paul Hsu, an iconic figure in Hong Kong’s culinary scene, effortlessly juggles his love for wine with a razor-sharp business acumen. On an early Thursday morning, defying expectations, he showed up eager and ahead of time, ready for an in-depth conversation about his fascinating journey.
With a history stretching over three decades, Hsu’s name is synonymous with renowned restaurants like Ye Shanghai, Deng G, and Nanhai. Those who have been in Hong Kong for a longer time might even recall his contributions to establishments such as Cinecitta, Kokage, and Bebek Bengil. Dive deeper into the past, and one would find Hsu working alongside Allan Zeman in the 1990s, bringing to life iconic spots like Va Bene, Indochine 1929, and The American Pie. It was for the latter that he hired Susan Jung, who later became a prominent figure in the culinary journalism world.
Hsu’s journey is not just about a series of successful establishments. Unlike many restaurateurs who remain as investors, Hsu has always been hands-on, personally managing both operations and kitchens. This passion traces back to his mother, who served as the banquet manager of the old Hong Kong Hilton hotel.
“I was born in Hong Kong, with my mother hailing from Shanghai,” Hsu reflects. “I spent my early years at the Hilton. However, a stint at Cornell University in the US made me realize engineering wasn’t my calling.” Instead, he switched to hotel management, which took him to various hotels in the US, including Atlanta, San Francisco, and Oakland.
His connection with China was reestablished in 1982 when an opportunity knocked on his door. An invitation to help launch The White Swan, a groundbreaking 1,000-room hotel in Guangdong, saw Hsu moving from San Francisco to Guangzhou. Later, he played a pivotal role in establishing Shanghai’s first modern luxury hotel, the Hilton, in 1988.
Although Hsu had the credentials to aim for top-tier hotel executive roles, his entrepreneurial spirit led him back to Hong Kong, where he founded Elite Concepts in 1991. For Hsu, the decision was clear, “I wanted to continue in F&B. You can’t always choose your destiny in the hotel world, but in the restaurant business, you carve your own path.”
His ventures are not just about setting up eateries. He’s recently been drawing inspiration from the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He for his Nanhai restaurants. The eateries trace Zheng’s voyages, offering dishes inspired by places like Sri Lanka and Persia.
A recent project saw him collaborating with chef Que Vinh Dang to develop a vegan fish sauce called Nuoc Mam Chay in Vietnam. Originating from a batch of excess pineapples, this unique sauce offers the familiar aroma of traditional fish sauce, showcasing the innovation that Hsu brings to the table.