In our continuing series of the coolest female culinary stars in celebration of International Women’s Day, I sat down with Katrina Zai, the co-founder and co-owner of Edition. Edition, a Korean-American ‘gastropub’ on Peel Street, is not your typical run-of-the-mill Bibimbap restaurant. Serving serious Korean-American comfort food, Edition specialises in soju-based cocktails and American-inspired fusion fare such as Pork Belly Lollipops, Spicy Kimchi Fries, and Asian Slaw with Prawns. As one of Hong Kong’s hottest female-owned and operated restaurants, I caught up with Katrina to learn how she got Edition off the ground.
BL: What’s your story, and how did you get started in running Edition?
I’ve been in the industry for 18 years. I started when I was in university, bartending for fun. Once I graduated, I spent some time in finance, but I didn’t like the office environment. When a friend asked me to help him out at the bar, I knew I found my passion. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena to study to become a Pastry Chef.
I was a pastry chef for a few years when I was living in LA, and when I moved to HK, I took a break. In 2012, I went to Seoul to study Korean cuisine. Edition was a creation of what I learned in Seoul and my experiences as a chef in LA. I started out in fine dining, but I much prefer casual comfort food instead.
BL: I’m with you there. White linen tablecloths are overrated! In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re profiling women in the F&B scene here in Hong Kong. What challenges do you think women in particular face in the F&B space? How did you overcome them?
Being a female chef is tough everywhere in the world. However, I noticed there are more and more of us, and it’s amazing to see women chefs being recognised. My first mentor, Dominique Crenn, was recently awarded World’s Best Female Chef 2016 and American Chef of the Year 2016. I am so proud and blessed to have worked with her.
Gaining respect from my peers has been my greatest personal challenge. Back then, the industry was heavily male-dominated. I really wasn’t part of the crew until I proved myself.
BL: What’s been your biggest surprise since opening up Edition?
It took us around nine months to ‘educate’ people about soju. Either people have no idea what it was, or they thought the only way to drink soju was chugging the bottles like you see in Korean dramas. Our own infused soju is much easier to drink, and It’s been fun introducing Honkers to this Korean classic.
BL: What’s wrong with chugging soju? (Just kidding). Along with surprises, there must’ve been the odd request here and there. Any ones that jump out of your mind, in particular?
I think the most difficult surprises I’ve had to deal with were dessert requests on the fly. I had a vegan request for dessert, but she didn’t want fruits. Another time, it was a little girl’s birthday and she wanted a particular dessert. She was the daughter of a pretty famous actor, so we had to make a peanut butter soufflé molten cake for her on the spot.
BL: Nice, already serving celebrities! What are the inspirations behind the dishes and drinks at Edition?
My husband and I love to travel and we love to eat as the locals do. Whenever we are in on holiday, I try to to see how I can use those ingredients in a dish.
Our cocktails are similar, where we try to take a classic cocktail like Negroni or Old Fashioned, and we use our infused soju to give it a twist. A favourite amongst our customers is the Wah Mei Whiskey Sour.
“To feel that passion, that burn, that thirst for learning makes you feel more alive and energised than ever. It’s such a great feeling. Keep your passion alive. Remember why you are in it. Starting out is easy, but staying is the hard part.”
BL: Yum. What is your favourite dish at Edition? And are there any particular dishes that you felt have become a hit?
My favourite dish at Edition is probably the Pork Belly Lollipops. It’s braised pork belly on skewers, fried and served on our Three Cheese Kimchi Fondue. It’s become pretty popular with the food bloggers, and whenever people see a photo of the cheesy goodness, they get really excited. I love to see people getting excited about food. To me, that’s a hit.
BL: You’re making me hungry…Are there any local food trends that you’ve noticed lately?
The egg waffle. That’s become such a craze now! I spent three months testing loads of recipes, and trying to get the right balance. This egg waffle beat me. I had an awesome dish in my head that I just couldn’t get it to become real. It was pretty frustrating. I wouldn’t mind revisiting it again, but I’ve got to find an great recipe!
BL: Testing loads of recipes? If you ever need another objective tester, I’m happy to help! Erm, I mean, other than Edition, tell me some of your favourite places to grab a bite in Hong Kong?
I love BBQ in Sai Ying Pun. It’s open until 1am and perfect for night owls like me. You can eat as much or as little as you want. It’s cheap and affordable.
BL: I love that place! Good choice. What advice would you have for aspiring females who want to start out in the F&B scene?
From the point of view of a chef, you’ve got to love food. I really mean it. My first two years, I lived and breathed food. I worked, slept, and read only food-related books. I barely had a life outside of work. My work was my entire life.
Learn from everyone that you can, and never stop learning. I watch everyone. I learned to cook so much more this way. I jumped in when I saw people needed help. I showed my chefs I was willing, and I put in extra effort. I was able to push myself further with extra mentoring they offered.
Every minute I spent in the kitchen in those early days, I wish I can relive again. To feel that passion, that burn, that thirst for learning makes you feel more alive and energised than ever. It’s such a great feeling. Keep your passion alive. Remember why you are in it. Starting out is easy, but staying is the hard part.
Check out Edition, The Korean Fusion Gastropub
Find it at 37 Peel St., Central