As the brains behind Ms. G’s, Mr Wong, and El Loco, Dan Hong has opened some of Sydney’s most successful and stylish restaurants. Dan’s sense of style extends beyond the kitchen, with an impressive collection of sneakers (see: #hongsneakers on Instagram) and streetwear sitting alongside his chef whites. We chatted to Dan about food, fashion, hand-me-downs, and the kind of perseverance needed to achieve your goals in a competitive industry.
When did you start collecting sneakers?
Probably around 2002, when all the Nike Dunks came out. Dunks were my first real foray into the sneaker game. As a kid growing up, I would buy the Air Max and Jordans, but I never seriously started collecting until ’02.
Did you get into streetwear around 2002 as well?
I think when you first get into sneakers, you inevitably get into streetwear. The first time I went to New York a friend introduced me to the Supreme store. A little while later, I noticed a few people wearing these kinds of clothes and caps in Australia. That’s when I started building my wardrobe.
Do you feel like there’s a crossover between your love of fashion and food?
Everyone has always been obsessed with what’s cool. Whether it’s your taste in music or art or fashion. In the last 10 years or so food has really entered the conversation. It’s part of the same culture now. You know your art, you know your fashion, you know your music, and now you know your food.
Food has become as culturally relevant?
Do you have a good time finding kicks for your kids?
When my daughter was born, Namira, I just went crazy on Jordans. Basically, every time there was a Jordan released, I’d go buy two pairs. In terms of clothes, I’m very fortunate to have a sister-in-law with two twins in Jakarta. We get a lot of hand-me-downs from them. They dress their daughters to-the-max with Gucci and Burberry, it’s great.
A lot different to the hand-me-downs I was getting from the older bro.
[Laughs] It’s pretty funny. You can actually get some pretty cool threads at K-Mart and places like that. Omar, my second born, is pretty much dressed head-to-toe in K-Mart (except for his shoes). I was in Japan recently and I was thinking of buying him a shark hoodie from Bape Kids. It was still around 250 bucks and I was like, “oh shit, maybe not.”
Are you pretty inspired by Japan’s sense of style in fashion and food?
Japan is the mecca for all things food and fashion. I first visited Japan four years ago and I’ve been in love ever since. When it comes to streetwear—nothing beats Japan. I try to get there at least once a year because it’s really inspirational for cooking as well. It’s really hard to get reservations in the best places because a lot of the restaurants only sit six or seven people. I have to plan well in advance. When I’m not eating in Japan, I’m shopping.
Have you always been self-driven?
I just finally found something I was passionate about. I hated studying, and the thought of university wasn’t appealing to me at all. Cooking was literally the only thing I was good at. If I wasn’t cooking, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t plan on becoming a head chef by the time I was 24 or anything like that, opportunities just came along. It just happened. I guess it’s proof that if you work really hard and give it 100%, then things are going to happen.
What was it like opening your own restaurant?
It was daunting, really daunting. It wasn’t until opening Ms. G’s in Potts point that I finally got the chance to define my own style of cooking. We opened Mr Wong not long after. These were some of the hardest, most rewarding weeks of my career. Opening a 300-seater restaurant that did 5000 covers a week was crazy.
Are you enjoying being more on the managerial side of things now?
Yeah, my role now is much more managerial. I’m spending less time doing service in the kitchen and more time developing our senior chefs. I’ve got head chefs and several sous chefs at Mr Wong and Ms. G’s, so my role now is really to develop these guys and girls so they can run the kitchen without me. I try and make sure they’re constantly coming up with new ideas and feel inspired in the kitchen.
Are you keen on getting involved in areas outside of food?
It would be cool to work for Nike Lab. Pitching ideas on what retros or silhouettes could make a comeback. Or what kind of collaborations we should be doing. That would be pretty sick.
Thanks for the chat, Dan. Looking forward to your new line of Nikes.
[Laughs] Cheers dude.
Produced in partnership with Zenith.
- Photography by: Tristan Stefan Edouard