Hong Kong has a lot of highly acclaimed restaurants that are regularly praised by international food critics, including the Michelin Guide, but none are receiving as much acclaim these days as The Principal. Situated in Wan Chai’s hip Star Street neighborhood, The Principal received its first Michelin Star this year, less than a year after it opened. Dakota Smith of Traveler’s Digest sat down with Hong Kong chef Jonay Armas to ask him a few questions on his craft and to find out what it’s like to be the city’s newest Michelin-starred chef.
You’re originally from the Canary Islands. Does the cuisine from the region weigh heavily on your offerings at The Principal?
I started out in Spain at a very young age so my background is strongly influenced by Spanish cuisine. Having said that, I have worked in kitchens around the world including India and Bali where cooking techniques and ingredients are very different. What we offer at The Principal is a continual exploration of different tastes, textures and techniques from around the world, some traditional and some a bit more contemporary.
What made you wish to relocate to Hong Kong?
I already had an existing relationship with the Press Room Group’s Director of Operations as we’ve worked together before in New Delhi, India. He approached me in the summer of 2011 and told me about the group’s latest project at the time, The Principal. It was perfect timing for me as I was just finishing up a job in Seminyak, Bali. I was looking for a new and exciting challenge and was thrilled when I landed this position in one of Asia’s most exuberant cities. I saw it as a great opportunity to have a go at the faster life.
Has moving to Hong Kong presented any unique challenges to your craft?
When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I have to admit that one of the biggest challenges was overcoming the language barrier in the kitchen. Most of my kitchen staff are local Chinese and came from all sorts of different culinary backgrounds so as you can imagine it took a bit of time to adjust and to educate my team on the different terminologies and techniques.
Another challenge was sourcing certain ingredients, some things are very hard to find in Hong Kong and even finding local organic vegetables hasn’t always been easy, but has improved a lot in the last year. Having to find specific items through suppliers and from overseas can be very time consuming but I have to say it has become a lot better.
Are there any dishes on your menu that were influenced by regional cuisines?
Our “Arroz Caldoso”, “Gazpacho” and the “Langoustine” dishes are quite Spanish influenced but then there are dishes like the “Oyster” on the degustation menu that is Thai influenced and “Black Sesame” dessert is another great example of an Asian influenced dish, so really it’s a variety of different influences.
Has your job changed since you received your Michelin Star?
In some ways there seems to be more work as public interest and expectations have increased after gaining the recognition. But more than anything, I think the attention has given me the motivation to come up with new concepts and ideas and has inspired me to be even more creative.
So we know the food critics love you. Do you feel as though you’ve also been received well by the Hong Kong public?
You know, on the rare occasion when I do have time to make an appearance in the dining room and chat to guests, I receive congratulatory feedback and that just puts a smile on my face. That’s why I’m here, to make people happy with my creations. Customers often say that what we do at The Principal is very different to other (Michelin) restaurants and that the use of certain ingredients is sometimes risky but unique.