KC Koo is one of Hong Kong’s earliest and most prolific food bloggers, starting out as a dedicated OpenRice reviewer before branching out with his own blog as well as cooking studio. He tells Adele Wong his beef with part-time bloggers, and why he sticks by the controversial Michelin guide.
A little background
KC Koo had a 20-year career in the financial industry, but while he was on the job, he managed to log more than 7,000 restaurant reviews on OpenRice. In 2010, he decided to take up his passion for food full time, and hasn’t looked back since. Today, KC posts regular reviews on his own blog site and runs My Studio Kitchen, a creative outlet in Kwun Tong that hosts cooking classes.
Your OpenRice and personal blog reviews combined now add up to 12,000 posts. That’s an insane amount of reviews — do you ever go back to the same restaurant?
I don’t like going back to the same place. I have friends who like to go to the same restaurants and be treated as a favored customer, but I don’t like that. If a street has five restaurants, I want to try them all.
Was blogging different back then?
In the beginning when I was writing for OpenRice, I refused to use pictures. I thought if I wrote something well, that was enough. But then people would start asking me, “How does that bowl of wonton noodles look?” Nowadays, I agree that a picture can describe lots of things and attract a reader to read your commentary.
My blog is still my dominant platform but in the past few years Hongkongers have been reading fewer blogs. It’s more Facebook and Instagram these days.
The landscape’s tough in Hong Kong. People in other parts of Asia are more engaged on social media. Fans in Taiwan will like anything on Facebook. Some [food celebrity] can post “Good Morning” on his feed and get thousands of likes. But in Hong Kong you can have a post reach 20,000 readers and not even get 200 likes for it.
What about bloggers then and now?
People my age (47), when we were young there were plenty of streetside stalls selling cheong fun, and the wonton noodle shops all used jook sing noodles. We used to go to the wet market to buy things for our parents.
But the younger generation, not only are they not experiencing the same things these days, they’re also not cooking as much. I think I have a unique perspective, because I grew up in a different Hong Kong than the bloggers today.
Many of the bloggers today are proud of telling you, “I don’t do it full time.” I think that’s an embarrassing thing to admit. You only think of food blogging as a part-time job?
It means you’re not passionate enough about food, or you’re not passionate about your job but are afraid to quit. I also don’t like bloggers who blog just to get a free meal. How many bloggers would go everywhere on their own these days?
What’s one thing that you feel strongly about in Hong Kong’s food scene?
The government spends a lot of money, but they spend nothing on cultivating Hong Kong food culture. There is no more street food these days. You can find street food in Tokyo, London, all the major cities, but not in Hong Kong.
What can the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department do to help promulgate Hong Kong food culture? Shut down. That would be the best [thing] for Hong Kong.
As a reviewer yourself, how do you feel about the Michelin guide?
I love reading the Michelin guide, but the Michelin guide isn’t well received anywhere. People in Japan don’t like it, same with Hong Kong. But I really recommend it because it’s setting some standards for the industry, and we’ve never had that in Hong Kong.
Think about roast goose: nobody else in the world would know how to eat goose. Even northern Chinese don’t eat goose, they only eat duck. The Michelin guide came over and they knew right away that our roast goose was special and recommended some restaurants that specialized in it. Before then, Hongkongers didn’t give roast goose much thought as they had grown up with it.
It’s also the first time in the world that the Michelin guide published a Street Food section in Hong Kong. They had the guts to do it, and it’s a start.
Seriously, don’t be so childish and say things like, “Why didn’t the Michelin guide pick this awesome shop right by my neighborhood?” or “Why did they pick this one?” Because slowly and surely, the Michelin guide will be smarter than all of us locals.
Nobody has the qualifications to criticize the guide — has anyone actually tried all of the restaurants recommended? If you haven’t, shut up. There are very few people who have actually gone to all of the restaurants.
You’ve got some strong opinions.
I don’t have many friends.
Read more from our Dishin’ the Dirt series.