Charity Closet with Malcolm Wood
Meet Malcolm, father to Marlon (4.5 years) and Jamila (15 years), and passionate foodie. Malcolm is the Co-founder and Global Managing and Culinary Director of Maximal Concepts, famous for many award winning bars & restaurants in Hong Kong including Mott 32, Brickhouse, Limewood, John Anthony, The Flying Elk, Stockton and Blue Butcher. Malcolm lives a very active lifestyle, and spends his downtime rock climbing or hiking with the family, and paragliding and trail running.
You have lived in 12 different countries! How has this shaped your love of food, and inspired your restaurant concepts?
Living in so many countries has massively influenced me. I was fortunate enough to see many different cultures, and experience a lot of different foods. I think there isn’t any food that I don’t enjoy eating and I really enjoy discovering new cuisines and new food cultures. I’m half Chinese and half English so that has also shaped me in the sense that I understand two cultures - I feel Hong Kong embodies that quite well. You will notice in our restaurant group we have many different varieties of cuisines. We don’t like to focus on a particular cuisine, and we like to challenge ourselves and we like to do as many different concepts as we can as they come up.
How long have you lived in Hong Kong and what makes Hong Kong feel like home for you and your family?
I feel like Hong Kong is the perfect place where people are really accepting of all the different cultures. It is really transient and really vibrant and there is a lot of variety of different people and cuisines. I have been living on and off in Hong Kong for 33 years, this is my fourth time living here. Of all the places I’ve lived, Hong Kong is the place I have spent the most time and it’s definitely the place that I think of as home.
Finding the best quality, sustainably sourced ingredients for your restaurants is something you are known for. Is this difficult to achieve in Hong Kong and what wins have you made?
Hong Kong has always been an extremely difficult place to source ingredients, as most things unfortunately have to come in via boat or plane. There has been a recent movement in Hong Kong to source locally, and there has been a growing organic farming community emerging in Hong Kong, so now it is possible to buy some of these ingredients from Hong Kong.
For our home cooking there is a great little market in Sheung Wan which just does locally sourced organic food from Chinese producers. When we cook Chinese food, we buy ingredients exclusively from there.
Our restaurant group, Maximal Concepts was one of the first movers in Hong Kong to really write about it and talk about it sourcing ethically and locally. Now I would like to think that there is a quite a good trend and following of people that care, and that have adopted that as well.
As a restaurant group we are constantly looking for ethically sourced ingredients. The way that we’ve gone about it, we have had to go right down to the actual producer and the actual farmer that we want to work with, and find someone who is either bringing that product in, or forge a new relationship.
Maximal Concepts was also one of the first groups to look at eliminating single use plastics and getting rid of all of our straws. We have changed all of our packaging recently to be almost 99% plastic free, instead using sustainable materials that decompose really quickly. We try to make an effort as a group.
How do you cook for your family at home? What are Jamila and Marlon's favourites?
They both love dumplings. I used to cook a lot of dumplings for Jamila when we lived in Shanghai. It’s something that my grandmother taught me, and my mother still cooks them to this day. We actually eat Chinese food almost 90% of the time at home. I was brought up around a Mother, Grandmother and Grandfather that loved cooking, and home cooked Chinese food is something that is harder to find out, so that is what I crave when I am at home.
Your love of the outdoors has spurred you to take on many social projects to raise awareness and help preserve the environment. Tell us about your involvement with popular environmental film, “A Plastic Ocean” and what other projects you have in the pipeline.
So I sit on the board for A Plastic Ocean Foundation. The foundation was set up to get the film produced and help drive awareness for the problem of single use plastic. We were the first production to highlight the health effects that single use plastic has on the food chain and the ecosystem. It was a passion project for all of us. For me particularly, coming from the food industry knowing the effects that we make through our decisions in business, it was something that I wanted to do to give back. It was alarming how bad the effect is on our health and on our children's health, and how bad the problem is in the environment today.
We are now working on another film project which is about climate change, called The Last Glaciers. I am a little bit more involved in the production side of this film, which means doing a lot of the filming, and the expeditions. It’s been really eye opening. We have gone to Antarctica and to Peru. We have been following NASA, and the number one leading iscience scientists in the world, and their projects to save and study ice and cognate mission. It has been super interesting and very eye opening and alarming at the same time.
The clothing industry puts a huge strain on the environment due through production methods, oversupply and the fast/disposable fashion mentality. How do you as a family manage your children’s outgrown clothing?
We manage this by being super conscious about what we buy. We try to buy good quality clothes that last. I think recently, as with single use plastic, there has been a massive push for ethically sourced factories that produce ethically sourced clothing, and a magnifying glass on the labour, restrictions and governance of those countries that clothing is coming from.
Maximal Concepts support a number of events, including Redress, to drive awareness of this issue. With children, it is about educating them and talking to them. We often watch documentaries together often about the negative effects of the food and clothing industries and these kinds of issues. If kids are aware of it they will also help to make sure we are making the right decision, because you often find that the kids care more than the parents do these days.
What steps have you taken as a family to be more environmentally conscious?
At home try not to buy our vegetables covered in plastic. We went on a supermarket hunt recently for coconuts that didn’t have a cellophane or plastic wrapping. After going through 5-6 different places we found a coconut that wasn’t covered in plastic! Luckily you can see now that the supermarkets are starting to take unnecessary plastic use more seriously.If you just practice all of those little things, whether it when you are shopping, or taking those reusable shopping bags out with you, your kids see that and they start buying into the idea of sustainability.
My daughter and I had this idea for a project to drive awareness in her school and amongst her peers. We noticed a lot of kids were getting into a unicorn craze, and everyone has been buying those blow up plastic unicorns that are used in swimming pools. They are quite wasteful because people use them for parties and then they get thrown away. We thought it would be really cool to make a really big paper one out of recycled paper. She is studying art at school, and she is going to make it with her art colleagues. Once it’s finished we are going to wear it, and tandem fly it in a paraglider off sunset peak in Lantau, video it and make a little video for Hong Kong kids of us going off in this paper mache giant unicorn.
Tell us about your chosen charity Little Life Warrior Society, and why it is important to you.
Often the local Hong Kong charities don’t get enough attention. Hong Kong as a city is quite a tough place for a lot of families, there are a lot of social pressures and work pressures, and there is a lot of schooling pressure. The charity that I have chosen was quite an interesting one because they look after families that are going through extreme pressure due to cancer, either the kids or their parents. Cancer in itself is a devastating thing for a family to go through, so this can be particularly hard on families in an environment like Hong Kong.
#WeRetykle because... it is an important part of sustainability and we want to reduce our footprint on the environment.Malcolm Wood