The chef de cuisine at Moxie tells Vicki Williams about his ingredient-led dishes, hopes for a plant-based future and what’s always in his fridge.
Michael Smith, chef de cuisine of new opening, Moxie, moved to Hong Kong from England in 2015 on an impulse. It was one that proved immediately fruitful and saw him landing himself a job as chef de partie for Shane Osborn’s Arcane, the flagship restaurant of The Arcane Collective. He has been the restaurant’s chef de cuisine since 2019.
During this time both his cooking style and lifestyle began to change to embrace a more eco-conscious and sustainable ethos, eventually leading Smith to adopt a predominately plant-based diet.
It is an ethos he is now sharing with diners in the form of ingredient-led dishes at the Collective’s third restaurant, with parts of Smith’s personality – playful, charming and a little cheeky – appearing on every colourful, enticing and carefully composed plate.
Equally of note are his leadership skills. Observing him nurturing and encouraging his team throughout service, even when mistakes occurred, is impressive.
When did you decide to become a chef?
I left school at 16; let’s just say I wasn’t academically motivated! My mum was a chef and restaurant manager and we lived in her brother’s pub, where I had my first job, washing up, at 14.
I fell into the industry, really. I knew it was the life for me though when I started cooking.
Who were your biggest influences or mentors as a young chef?
Of course I would cite Shane Osborn as one of my biggest influences and mentors. I learnt a lot about what it means to take an ingredient-led approach to cooking whilst working with him at Arcane. He also taught me what it means do be a good leader.
My previous employers Tom Kerridge and Michael Caines – both of whom held two Michelin stars – taught me how to cook, as well as self-discipline and professionalism. And, Andy Knight one of my first head chefs who sent me off to Gidleigh Park when I was 18 to make something for myself.
Finally, my mum and uncle who showed me hard work and dedication from day one.
Tell me more about Moxie. How does it fit in with your own cuisine philosophy?
Moxie is an all-day dining restaurant, where we follow a philosophy of conscious dining, underpinned by our relationship with food, health and the local environment.
Our cuisine is unpretentious, ingredient-led and approachable, with a menu that features plant-based, vegetarian and sustainably sourced seafood dishes.
When building our menu we look at what’s in season, which might be an ingredient that we haven’t used before. We start with that one ingredient and build a dish around that. It is how I personally like to eat, and therefore how I like to cook.
Tell me about one of your current signature dishes, a dish that you would serve to peers for them to understand more about you as a chef.
The Mapo Tofu with three grains – spelt, pearl barley and buckwheat – and pickled yellow carrots.
I made this dish one day at Arcane for a staff meal, just riffing with some ingredients that we had lying around at the time, and Shane loved it so much he told me I should put it on the menu at Moxie.
Since then, I have spent time tweaking and refining it, and I’m really proud of the version you’ll find on our menu today. For me, not only is it healthy and delicious, it is also an homage to the dishes I have grown to love since I moved to Hong Kong.
Please comment on the future of dining, restaurants or industry trends that you foresee.
I hope that more chefs and restaurants start to adopt a plant-based and sustainability-focused approach to food over the coming years. We have certainly started to see this begin to take shape as a ‘trend’ in the industry in recent years, but it is my hope that this is much more than a passing trend.
For me, eating more plants and less meat is really the way to go, not only for our own health, but also for the well-being of the planet.
What was the first thing you learned how to cook?
My grandad’s gratin dauphinois.
What would Bar Talk always find in your fridge?
Kimchi and hummus.
Where is your favourite place for an after-work wind-down drink and what would you order?
House kombucha on the terrace at Arcane.