You might know Gary Suen from his online presence – he writes a well-read food blog (g4gary.blogspot.hk) and is active on social media (@g4gary on Instagram). Even if you don’t, within minutes of meeting him you’d be won over by his love of food, which, he says, he enjoys cooking as much as he does eating.
A Hong Kong-based IT professional, Suen doesn’t leave his geekery at the office – he is the proud owner of an immersion circulator, perhaps the ultimate amateur cook’s toy, and jokes that he has enough crockery and flatware to supply a catering firm.
As much as food obsessives are mocked, it’s hard to poke fun at someone like Suen, who needs no reason to invite friends over for a meal and is the go-to cook at his church’s fairs and fundraisers.
Hong Kong-born Suen spent his younger years in Maryland, in the United States, so his pantry contains a mix of local and international flavours. A giant tin of Old Bay Seasoning, central to a Maryland crab boil, stands loud and proud on its shelf.
“Friends know I love it, so they’ll buy it for me when they go to the US,” he says.
He once made crab cakes to sell at a farmer’s market in Hong Kong. “I wrote on the sign that they were ‘Maryland crab cakes’,” says Suen. “A guy came by and questioned if they were the real thing. I showed him the tin of Old Bay and he was satisfied. Turns out he was from Maryland.”
On a visit to Turin, in Italy, last year, Suen visited the Salone del Gusto, a biennial food fair organised by the Slow Food organisation, and bought balsamic vinegars direct from the producer. He regrets having had only one day at the fair: “There was so much to see.”
Wherever he goes, Suen is interested in the smaller, local producers. Evidence of this interest can be found in his Hong Kong kitchen, in the rice, the Yu Kwen Yick chilli sauce and a collection of soy sauces, including a small bottle by Kowloon Soy Company.
There are plenty of bottles and packages on his shelves from Japan, too, a country he visits often for work and play.
“I find out what food each area is known for and try to bring some back,” he says. The hunt goes beyond edibles and includes vessels, kitchen implements and ceramics.
“[Kitaoji Rosanjin] thought it was so important to serve food in the right crockery that he became a ceramicist,” Suen says, holding up a book he’s been reading by the Japanese restaurateur, who died in 1959. “It’s surprising to think that this was written so many years ago. The way he talks about food is so relevant today.”
Inspired by the author, Suen has recently begun pottery classes. If all goes well, he might soon be able to throw a dinner party using only self-made crockery.