The story of Cantonese cuisine with modern flourishes
We sat down with the talented and passionate wine professional, Derek Li, talking about its deep understanding of global wine trends, his savvy wine knowledge and somewhat whimsical and bold wine selections.
How did you end up here?
I started my adventure as a bartender, drinking and connecting with people.
After a while I began doing sales for the restaurant. At that time I didn’t know much about wine, but now I realise how also the audience was less unprepared then now and how it was easier to talk about wine.
Then one day, the breakthrough.
My general manager offered to pay for my wine course, so I thought, “why not?”
This is how and when my passion and curiosity for wine went deeper, trying something new every day.
In 2015 I was recognised as the Best Sommelier in Greater China by Sopexa Hong Kong, while working for Michelin-starred Italian restaurant L’Altro.
This was a great experience for me, it inspired me and taught me to push myself beyond my boundaries.
I then joined Swire Group as a sommelier for Mr. & Mrs. Fox, where I enlarged the portfolio accordingly to the style of the bistro, introducing unknown labels and grapes… it was a lot of fun.
Later on, in 2017, I entered Duddell’s as a Chief sommelier.
We know you have a bold wine list... what was the reaction of the people to unknown wines?
Most of the people like surprises, in the wine list too.
It happens they find something new and they are eager to try, especially if driven by the suggestion of a wine connoisseur they trust.
Personally, I like to always give something special to my customers, recommending things I love accordingly to my own style, that sometimes can be bold. Diversity in the wine list is very important, the ability is to make people comfortable while approaching new things.
When you started this job it turned out how you imagined?
I guess I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect. I like experimenting, connecting and meeting with people and add my personal twist to what I do. And this is also what excites me about my job: communication and sharing is a key component.
If you want to be successful you need to be open minded, to look forward, and even if people criticise you because of your unusual ideas, don’t worry!
Tell us more about the concept behind Duddell’s.
Located in the heart of Hong Kong, the restaurant opened 5 years ago, under the executive Chef Fung Man-Ip, who created a concept of classic-meets-contemporary to differentiate it make it unique.
This idea embraces the whole concept: from the wine list, with classic wines implemented with funky and rare ones, to the menu that commits to the minutest detail, honouring traditional Cantonese cuisine with a refined and modern twist, to the atmosphere and design that is a mix between and art gallery and dining rooms.
Do people stick to traditions or look for the modern? How did clients change over these years?
It has to be said that Hong Kong, because of its history and location, is a fast-paced city where people favour the latest trend and tend to forget traditions.
At Duddell’s, we celebrate both the traditional taste while evoking the modern that permeates the City. This is also why we are able to cover all the age ranges and people from all over the world.
What is the potential of wine when paired with Chinese food
Even though Cantonese cuisine wasn’t born with wine on the side, it is easy to pair it; because of its delicate flavours, you can’t match it with too powerful and sharp wines. Are recommended wines high in acidity and fresh to contrast with the oily and fat content of the food.
The secret to pairing Chinese food with the right wine is an in-depth understanding of the dish including its cooking methods and the intensity of flavours. The success of the dish depends on whether its freshness can be tasted.
How is the wine knowledge nowadays?
When I was taking class, we were about 40 students and over the 70% of them wasn’t related to wine, they were just taking the course for their own knowledge. This is already a fact.
Those are the people that then became consumers and wine lovers, and when they go to a restaurant they have a clear idea of what they are looking for.
As a consequence, sommeliers need to be more skilled and prepared than before.