Taking the helm at Zoku, the modern Japanese restaurant at the recently opened The Hari Hong Kong, Phillip Pak is a newcomer to the city. He joined the team in December 2020, having traveled to Hong Kong from Vail, Colorado in the middle of the pandemic.
Having previously worked with Nobu Matsuhisa – the famed Japanese chef behind the Nobu and Matsuhisa brands of restaurants – Pak is well-versed in the fine art of Japanese cuisine. At Zoku, his focus is on dishing up a modern spin on Japanese cuisine that employs high-quality produce.
How did you get into food and cooking?
I really got into it during my first job as a sushi assistant. During this time, I regularly hosted barbecues or dinner parties at my house. I would either be the person barbecuing or an assistant to the real chef (aka my Mom). I enjoyed cooking more and more as I started to recreate classic recipes and creating my own.
What training did you do to become a chef?
My training occurred every day with chefs. Everything I learned was on the job and I have no regrets.
What do you think are the most important attributes for a chef?
Being patient and passionate about cooking.
What makes a good dish?
Making sure the food is seasoned correctly.
What influences your cooking style?
Traveling and eating out at different places. If I like a dish, I watch how the chef cooks it, and then I think about how I would cook it.
What is your process for creating a dish?
You need to figure out what protein you are using first, then what vegetables are in season and what flavor profile I am going for. I then taste all the ingredients together and adjust as I go. Once I am happy with the result, I think about the plating and how it’s going to look. It might take 10 minutes or one day to finalize the dish.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
Miso, Soy, Vinegar, Citrus.
What do you consider to be the standout moments of your career?
The first one was when I was hired to work under Gordan Ramsay. I was around 23 or 24 years old and working in such a high volume and 5-star hotel was an eye-opening experience. I worked with some of the best chefs. The second one was when I took my first job in Asia. I had never left home before and going to Bangkok
was a big culture shock – I also loved the street markets and the number of food stalls. I could have literally eaten all day.
You’ve previously worked with renowned Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. What did you learn from this experience?
I learned that you need to be humble and patient, understand when change happens, and adjust to it.
You moved from Aspen, Colorado to Hong Kong to take over Zoku in October 2020. What were the challenges you faced in developing a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic?
Well, any opening is hard, but the hardest time for me was being quarantined for 14 days and doing all interactions through Zoom
What’s your vision for Zoku?
I want Zoku to be the next big thing in 2021. I want to hear people raving about it and have it compete with the big boys here in Hong Kong.
Zoku focuses on fresh Japanese produce – how do you go about sourcing your ingredients and ensuring their freshness?
We only trust reputable suppliers who have worked with Japanese ingredients. I also always check the deliveries to make sure that the quality is up to my standards.
What do you hope guests will take away from their experience at Zoku?
The feeling of satisfaction knowing that we care about the food we put out to the service we provide.
A Dishin’ the Dirt profile.