This Hong Kong-born chef shows there are no borders in the world of good food
The cosmopolitan hub that is Tokyo, Japan is a distance from Hong Kong both geographically and culturally. Yet, when Hong Kong-born chef Grace Choy decided to set up a private dining kitchen overseas in 2019, she knew right away that it was the ideal location.
“My husband and I love Japan, and I have always wanted to cook with the freshest Japanese ingredients. When the chance came along to bring our food here, I couldn’t say no,” she said.
Located in Aobadai, Meguro City today, Choy Choy Kitchen has helped to redefine Cantonese cuisine in Tokyo. The passionate chef made it her priority to bring authentic Chinese recipes to the city’s buzzing dining scene and discerning customers.
Catering to international tastes with fresh local ingredients
Once settled, the ever-dynamic Choy also embarked on a new project — a line of mouth-watering sauces made with locally sourced ingredients. Venturing into the new space of doing business, Choy continues to reinforce one of her key beliefs: when it comes to food, there are no borders.
“XO sauce, which is very popular in Hong Kong, was our first product and we have received so much positive feedback,” she said. “As a chef, one of the most important things is to stay true to your roots and create things that are close to your heart. At the same time, always be open to new opportunities to develop your craft.”
Though she had started out mainly shipping her sauces to Hong Kong in late 2020, Choy’s throngs of social media followers have reached out to her, asking for her to deliver to the likes of Taiwan, Australia, and even the U.S. and Canada. Working closely with DHL around import regulations for food items which vary per country, the entrepreneur was able to properly pack and dispatch her first shipments with ease. Hong Kong, for example, encourages food importers to obtain health certificates from countries of origin and has specific legal requirements or administrative arrangements for perishables.
A local operations team further collaborated with the chef for same-day pick-up to ensure buyers received the sauce at its freshest.
“For our first shipments to Hong Kong, I was impressed by the team at DHL who provided seamless, 24-hour services. When the time comes to ship to many more countries worldwide, I’ll definitely be needing their support once more,” predicted Choy, who has also since delved into the development of a new product — a garlic, black bean sauce — that will be backed by a crowd-funding campaign.
From the home kitchen to social media fame
Looking back on her journey reminds Choy of how she has gotten to where she is today. While most 12-year-olds would have preferred to spend their time watching television or hanging out with their friends, Choy found solace in the family kitchen.
Peering intently at her mother’s every move, Choy recalls being mesmerized by her Cantonese recipes and cooking techniques. From the sight of dim sum simmering away in rustic bamboo steamers to the smell of freshly ground spices being sautéed in the kitchen – everything felt like magic.
“I have never received much formal training at culinary schools,” said Choy. “My mother was a great cook and today, my mother-in-law also shares my passion for food and inspires my work.”
Over time, this passion would only intensify. Despite starting out with a corporate career that spanned years, Choy eventually decided to start afresh and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a chef. In 2011, with support from her husband, she took the bold step of setting up Choy Choy’s Kitchen Hong Kong, a private dining-style restaurant in the small town of Yuen Long.
This leap of faith would propel her to heights she never imagined possible. Choy Choy’s Kitchen Hong Kong was recognized by CNN in 2016 as one of the top 10 best hidden private kitchens in Hong Kong, as Choy became a household name. The restaurant also garnered accolades such as the most-liked Chinese restaurant on Facebook, while she became the first Twitter-verified chef from Greater China.
For Choy, staying at the top of the culinary world means having the courage to experiment and push the boundaries of age-old traditions.
“The key is never stop learning and opening yourself up to new possibilities – that’s where the magic happens.”
Useful Express shipping tips for food items
- Ensure liquids are contained in leak-free containers and protected with strong materials like Styrofoam. Seal in a plastic bag before packing items in a strong double wall box.
- Seal semi-liquids, greasy or strong-smelling substances with adhesive tape. Wrap in grease-resistant paper before packing into a strong double wall box.
- Powders and fine grains should be placed in strong plastic bags, securely sealed and then packed in a rigid fiberboard box.
- When it comes to food, freshness is key. Take advantage of DHL’s global specialist network to get to know the customs regulations of each destination country, transit times and potential temperature fluctuations throughout transport.
- Give your buyers greater peace of mind and control over their purchase by offering On-demand Delivery on your online platform.
A taste of success
This drive to reinvent herself was what inspired Choy to take the next step in her career – becoming a businesswoman. In the last quarter of 2020, after six months of research and development, she was finally ready to unveil her line of condiments to the world.
The XO sauce, made to order with Japanese ingredients and no preservatives, quickly became a bestseller. The sauce, brewed by hand from dried scallops and shrimps, boasts a rich savory flavor with a spicy kick.
“Doing business internationally was something I dared not dream about,” she said.
“I thought that DHL served only the big companies and not small businesses. But with the help of DHL, a business like mine can expand internationally. It was really about finding the right support, and this has been such a big factor in making my dreams possible.”
Tony Khan, President and Representative Director of DHL Express Japan, said: “After living in the culinary haven that is Asia for a long time, I think the great food we have here deserves to be shared widely. We want to support the small businesses like Grace’s that create these good things in life by helping them reach out to opportunities in the global marketplace.”
For now, Choy is back at the drawing board, experimenting with more products.
“My goal has always remained the same — to connect the world through food. I am so grateful for the opportunity to pursue my dreams,” she said.