An interview with Malcolm Wood, Global Managing and Culinary Director of Maximal Concepts
Name: Malcolm Wood | Occupation: Global Managing and Culinary Director of Maximal Concepts | Location: Hong Kong | Known for: Co-Founder of Maximal Concepts, Global Managing and Culinary Director of Maximal Concepts, Environmental filmmaker and social entrepreneur, Involvement in charities and passion for outdoor sports
Hong Kong is home to an abundance of creative talent, spanning across different career paths from artists to chef. Each week we interview creatives and entrepreneurs from across the city to learn more about their passions and aspirations. This week, we got up and personal with Malcolm Wood, the Co-Founder, Global Managing and Culinary Director of Maximal Concepts.
A Little Background…
With a reputable influence in the dining industry, Malcolm Wood is one of three co-founders of award-winning hospitality group, Maximal Concepts. As one of the fastest growing F&B companies in the world, Maximal Concepts has already made its mark across Hong Kong, Singapore, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Korea and Thailand. Holding years of experience in the F&B industry, Woods has sat on many panels including the panel of Judges for the Restaurant and Design Awards in the UK, and the world-famous Dean & Deluca from New York.
But that’s not all—besides Wood’s ventures in the F&B industry, he is also a passionate environmental filmmaker, social entrepreneur, participates regularly in charity projects, and is on the Board of Directors for Plastic Oceans Foundation, Hong Kong Shark Foundation and Skeena Wild. Wood was also involved in the production of “A Plastic Ocean”, which was one of the most awarded documentaries in 2017 and more recently, “The Last Glaciers”, a film that highlights the global issue of climate change.
Wood is also an outdoor sports enthusiast and was recently selected as the first paraglider, speedflyer and film maker to join UN Environment’s campaign ‘Mountain Heroes’—an organisation of famous athletes looking to draw attention to emerging environmental issues. Some of his favourite outdoor mountain sports include Speed Riding, Paragliding, Mountaineering and Para-Alpinism.
About Maximal Concepts
Founded in 2012, Maximal Concepts is led by Malcolm Wood, Xuan Mu and Matt Reid, with a mutual philosophy to bring unique restaurants and services to Hong Kong and internationally. The brand’s flagship, Mott 32, was a thriving success, now boasting several awards and remaining as one of the best Chinese eateries in the city. Other brands under Maximal Concepts include Sip Song and Limewood at Repulse Bay, and Flawless spa in Central.
1) Could you tell us about yourself and how you got into F&B?
Food has always been a significant pillar in my life. I grew up all over the world—I’m half-Chinese, half-English, was born in Taipei, educated in the UK (for high-school and university) and lived in several countries throughout my childhood and younger years. Needless to say, I was lucky enough to be exposed to good cooking and international cuisines from a young age. My maternal grandmother, who lived next door to us in Taiwan, was an excellent home cook and those are still some of my fondest memories of truly authentic Chinese cooking to this day. My paternal grandparents, who are British, not only introduced me to classic English dishes (roast dinners and sticky toffee pudding!), but were also the first people to educate me about provenance and the importance of knowing where your food comes from.
I met my business partner Matt Reid (co-founder of Maximal Concepts), at university in England—we’ve been best friends and business partners for over 20 years. We met our third partner Xuan Mu (also co-founder of Maximal Concepts), when we moved to Hong Kong in our mid-20s. We opened our first restaurant—a steak restaurant called Blue Butcher on Hollywood Road (since closed), in 2012—which kicked off Maximal Concepts, our hospitality group. We had been looking to do a Chinese concept, which is a risky bet in a city like Hong Kong where the competition is so fierce for Chinese restaurants, and finally found the perfect, most unique location in the basement of a bank in Central, and opened the first Mott 32 in Hong Kong in 2014.
2) You do a lot of adventuring and outdoor expeditions. What is your relationship with the outdoors and how does it influence your work?
Outside of restaurants, climate change awareness is my greatest passion. My love for the outdoors, cooking and sustainability is all embedded in my love for the environment. I am a brand ambassador for the outerwear clothing brand, Arc’teryx, as well as a United Nations ‘mountain hero’, as part of a global campaign involving athletes who are advocates for climate change.
For the past 4 years, I have been working on a documentary project with my friend and documentary film-maker, Craig Leeson, ‘The Last Glaciers’ which is due to come out this year. It’s the second documentary we’ve worked on together, after ‘A Plastic Ocean’ which came out in 2016. I’m very excited to show the world what we’ve been working on and it is such an important message we are sharing. The purpose of the documentary is to showcase the effects of climate change, as exemplified by the diminishing rate of glaciers on the world’s mountain ranges and polar ice caps, and it aims to clarify the multiple contradicting messages that have been presented to the public, and remove any doubt that climate change is a very serious concern.
3) You were appointed by the United Nations as a “mountain hero”—congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Thank you! Needless to say, it is a huge honour. For a while now, I have been passionate about raising awareness around the climate crisis in the mountains and inspiring change to prevent further climate deterioration as much as I can, and being a part of this campaign extenuates that.
The purpose of the documentary [The Last Glaciers] is to showcase the effects of climate change, as exemplified by the diminishing rate of glaciers on the world’s mountain ranges and polar ice caps, and aims to clarify the multiple contradicting messages that have been presented to the public, and remove any doubt that climate change is a very serious concern.—Malcolm Wood, Global Managing & Culinary Director at Maximal Concepts
4) What is your favourite dish from each of your restaurants at Maximal Concepts at the moment?
This is always incredibly difficult to choose, and changes all the time depending on the seasons and what we’re working on in the kitchen during a given month. But I’d have to say, a perennial favourite that never goes out of favour is the Applewood Peking Duck at Mott 32. Ours is a very special version.
At Limewood, it’s got to be the tacos—either pulled chicken or fried fish. They go so perfectly with our cocktails. Nothing is better than a couple of tacos, chased down with a (or several) of our Charred Pineapple Mojitos, by the beach.
I can’t get enough of the “Don’t Tell Mom” Roti Pancake at Sip Song—a flaky buttery roti, covered in our housemade chilli jam, BBQ pork neck and bright, fresh herbs. Perfection.
5) Have you taken the time in quarantine to reflect on business strategies and overcoming the impact of COVID?
Absolutely. Hong Kong restaurant operators have all been through such turmoil since last summer, due to the protests compounded with the COVID crisis this year. For us to survive this storm, we forced ourselves to make some heart breaking decisions. We have to assume that we are only in the first phase of the storm.
This led us to really question every location we have and analyse the ongoing impact. We needed to “re-build” a ship that could bear the whole storm, and not just the first wave. Sadly, this means we had to close Brickhouse after eight years of taco-fuelled madness and, our newest star, John Anthony in Causeway Bay has also being retired. Stockton has re-opened, but under different ownership. We are so happy for the Stockton team who, in many cases, have worked with us for a long time.
Sustainability is hugely important to me, and to Maximal Concepts as a company. We try to look at sustainability has a whole, in the design, the materials we were using to the products that we are cooking with.—Malcolm Wood, Global Managing & Culinary Director at Maximal Concepts
6) What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is hugely important to me, and to Maximal Concepts as a company. We try to look at sustainability has a whole, in the design, the materials we were using to the products that we are cooking with. Yes it’s more expensive to do things this way, yes it’s more effort, but we all need to work on how we do business in an ethical manner and we need to start somewhere.
The industry as a whole must continue to learn things we can do to try to make a difference…sustainability in the mind, sustainability in the heart. The journey is the beginning of the process and as more people become aware, the more customers there are demanding sustainability from the businesses they choose to spend their money at. It’s vital that we adopt these new practices not only for the betterment of the planet – which is the most important thing—but also to preserve our industry in the long run.
7) What was your favourite cuisine growing up? What about now?
Definitely my grandmother and mother’s Chinese home cooking. And that’s what I cook most frequently for my kids at home today.
8) How did you find growing up as a Eurasian? How does it influence your taste in cuisine and curating new menus?
I feel equally in tune with both sides of my heritage—I was born in Taipei, where my mum is from and spent a lot of time with grandmother who gave me my love for Chinese food. I then went to school in the UK as a teenager, and spent a lot of time with my paternal grandfather, who showed me the beauty of a good English Roast Dinner.
Also, moving around a lot as a child and living in different countries throughout Asia, Europe and also Canada definitely created the diverse palate I have and far-reaching appreciation for all different types of cuisine. I think that’s reflected in Maximal Concepts, as we have a Chinese (Mott 32), Thai (Sip Song), and Caribbean (Limewood) concept and have explored many others over the years.
9) What is something you do to unwind?
I’m not very good at ‘unwinding’, I’m a very active person and almost always on the go. My version of blowing off steam is being outdoors either skiing, paragliding or mountain climbing. It sounds extreme, but it’s honestly when I feel most at peace. Spending time with family is also paramount to me.
Moving around a lot as a child and living in different countries throughout Asia, Europe and also Canada definitely created the diverse palate I have and far-reaching appreciation for all different types of cuisine.—Malcolm Wood, Global Managing & Culinary Director at Maximal Concepts
10) What are the next steps forward for Maximal Concepts and its restaurants?
For Maximal Concepts, our core business plan remains and thankfully is still on track. We are building the first global luxury Chinese restaurant brand and we’re happy to say that all of Mott 32’s global sites (Singapore, Las Vegas, Vancouver) are still in play (and have recently re-opened after lockdown periods) and we have more international sites in development. We are laser focused on further refining our brand and bringing our bold vision into reality.