Todd Darling is a pioneer of Hong Kong’s locavore movement, bringing just-picked fruit and vegetables to the city’s dinner plates via Italian restaurants Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini, as well as local food delivery service Homegrown Foods. He talks about the challenge of going locavore in Hong Kong.
I first came to Hong Kong in 2003 with Pure to open their restaurant, Red, in IFC. I was 23 at the time and expected to come out for two years, have some fun, learn some Chinese and create a few stories to tell back in the States. I never expected to be here today.
It was very hard at first to get the local farmers to understand what we wanted to do when we started the locavore movement in Hong Kong. I would have to drive out to the farms in my car and bring the vegetables back for the restaurant myself.
It’s tough supplying restaurants year-round with fruits and vegetables. Hong Kong has very definite seasons and not much space. And it’s not like we’re a 10-seater with a menu that’s led by what’s in season. We have big, busy restaurants.
When we first launched the reaction was very mixed. A lot of customers got it right away, but to this day many still mistrust food that’s grown in Hong Kong, in terms of both safety and quality.
They don’t understand the luxury of picking something at its optimum ripeness and getting to eat it that evening.
In my six years of Homegrown Foods, I’ve never had an imported tomato that tastes better than one picked ripe off the vine right here in Hong Kong.
I see myself always having a home here. But my son is American and I’d like that to be in culture as well as in passport.
I’d also love to live in Africa for a year or two – maybe one day I can do six months in Ethiopia, six months in Hong Kong.
I used to love the freewheeling spirit of doing business in Hong Kong, but in the past 24 months or so I’ve noticed this negative energy.
It’s like the city doesn’t know where it economically, politically, or with its relationship to China. It’s affecting people doing business here, and It’s a little unsettling.
If I could change one thing about myself, I would live in the present more. I tend to live in the future, which is natural if you run a business
I suppose, but it stops you from enjoying today.