Ambrose Chiang of Project Ambrose Consultancy on Joining Food with Wine
July 28, 2023
Australian-born Ambrose Chiang has carved quite a name for himself among the world’s finest dining and drinking concepts. Having served as the face of wine and beverage at Momofuku Seiōbo - the Michelin 3-Hats restaurant which closed in 2021 and the only restaurant David Chang opened in Australia - at only 23 years old in his native Sydney, as well as at Momofuku Ko** (2 Michelin Stars) in New York. With an array of other accolades that shine on his proverbial lapel, his expertise traverses continents and cuisines.
Without boasting about his impressive list of partners and clients, Ambrose’s deep knowledge of wine sets him apart from others in the food and beverage consultancy industry. He founded Project Ambrose Consultancy in 2020 and has since made a significant impact on the development of some of our city’s most popular restaurants, bars, and dining establishments. He has collaborated with importers, hoteliers, and retailers to skillfully bring together all the elements that make up a flawless F&B experience.
Speaking to The Beat Asia, Ambrose gives us a glimpse into the kaleidoscope of experience he has amassed over the years, how being able to encounter as many of the world’s best wines and cuisines as possible have informed his discerning palate, and his hopes for the future of Hong Kong’s food and beverage scene.
On Finding His Passion for Food Early in Life, and Joining Momofuku
“I lived in boarding school most of the time in my teenage years, so culinary experiences at school was minimal. Yeah, awful food. I often say I am the product of the early stages of food television, like Jamie Oliver, Gordan Ramsay, and classic Anthony Bourdain – watching these three industry icons confirmed that this is the industry I want to be in, for life.
At that time, my family was in Hong Kong, so I would travel back to Hong Kong whenever there was a long break. Hong Kong was my gateway for tasting produce from around the world; therefore, my favourite place to visit was, in fact, City Super! Australia has a lot of local produce, which is great, but it comes at the expense of imports. In Hong Kong, I searched for products that I couldn't find in Australia, for example, Italian anchovies, Spanish canned clams, Japanese fish, Japanese Wagyu, and various types of French pâtes and foie gras. I am grateful to Hong Kong for allowing me to taste those items.
Then at 16 years old, I focused my energy on binge-watching cooking shows, scouring YouTube for instructional videos, and borrowing all the cookbooks I could find in the school library. During the first three years of my career, one and a half years fully immersed in the industry while working at Café Sydney. I pursued a degree in International Restaurant Management at Le Cordon Bleu, and concurrently began studies for WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 and 3 before completing the Level 4 diploma in my final year. I also participated in restaurant service competitions with World’s Skills Australia, where I had the opportunity to serve dishes and drinks tableside.
At the age of 21, I joined Momofuku in Sydney after celebrating an exam at the bar. This was a big turning point in my life, although it was not an easy journey, it felt natural to me.”
On Developing a Taste for What’s Good, and What’s Not
“My early career in hospitality taught me to challenge the status quo. Before joining Momofuku Seiobo, most of my earnings went to buying wines, and every night I tasted, and I'd select per producer, per region, per grape, doing side-by-side-tastings to understand the difference. Once I became the assistant sommelier at Seiobo, the game changed, as I had access to all importers in the country. I could taste anything I wanted, which allowed me to gain a deep understanding of what constitutes good and bad wine.
I fell into the trap of chasing 'cool wines' from 'cool producers.' Obviously, the wines were great, but I wanted to understand why they were so good. This led me to study the foundations of these wine producers; who were their mentors? From studying the wines, I could share that many excellent producers had an equally excellent mentor, who is or was a pioneer in their field. This became my obsession...who are the people who made an improvement in the food and beverage industry, and how did they achieve those better new ways of doing things that ended up sticking around for years?
Ultimately, their values infected me, and this is what led me to launch Project Ambrose Consultancy. I see too many hospitality concepts lacking service, food quality, menu build-up, guest comfort, or all of the above. I wanted to change the industry for the better.”
On Becoming an Expert
“In 2017, I moved to Momofuku Ko** in New York City to become the wine & beverage director.
As I became an integral part of the restaurant service, the focus quickly shifted to repairing and reimagining the wine list. Being someone who embraces big challenges, a fresh direction and a unique voice in the wine and beverage scene was the goal. We built a producer-focused wine list where the world’s greatest traditionalists and naturalists would be featured in the same list, along with natural sake, artisanal spirits and lambic beers; a deceptively simple bar program where we focused heavily on the mise en place and a non-alcoholic pairing that was created for the tasting menu. The creativity and the energy of the team inspired me to go further and we managed to claim some fantastic awards for our work in New York.
During my time in New York, the other side of my focus was to foster a culture of education and growth amongst the team, knowing that in order to deliver great wine experiences, we would have to rely entirely on a highly trained beverage team. It was so rewarding to witness the development of a strong and knowledgeable next generation of hospitality professionals, and we all felt united thanks to a shared passion for excellence.
I was incredibly blessed to have hospitality legends within the Momofuku family - Su Wong Ruiz, Kylie Javier Ashton, Paul Carmichael, Ben Greeno, Sean Gray, Richard Hargreave, Jake Lewis, and so many others. Everyone was instrumental in shaping my voice in hospitality and wine.”
From Building Wine Lists to Creating Dining Concepts
“I have always loved restaurants and hospitality concepts. Being able to leave the floor gave me a lot of head space to reconsider my value and what I can do within the industry. I worked with a Burgundy specialist importer and got the chance to understand Hong Kong’s F&B market intensively as the Director of Business Development and Communications.
In 2020, I started Project Ambrose Consultancy out of necessity and the encouragement from friends that I have more value outside of a singular role. The idea started formulating with me evaluating my skills inventory and really collecting what I have been doing for the past 10 years in Sydney, New York and Hong Kong; of exposure and work, people I met, and ideas that I had. You digest them, and you think. These are the concepts; these are the pieces that help build the concept.”
On Establishing Project Ambrose Consultancy in a Competitive F&B Scene
“What client intent is, is the most important part. For some clients, they need a lot of guidance to understand what they actually want. That’s what we do at PAC, it starts with a discovery workshop. You slowly try to understand what they’re thinking and what we can agree on. Do you want a Michelin-starred French restaurant, or a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant, or do you want a dry-age steakhouse? Your entire renovation and financial planning is going to be different for all of these.
I have a good team. PAC is led by a business partner of mine with 15 years of International Corporate Strategy experience in Seoul, Brussels, New York, and other cities, and she sees things that I don’t. We work super well as a package for our clients, since most of them come from the corporate world. They love the combination of someone that speaks their language and sees the world through global corporate strategy, and myself, who came from operations and is used to being the brains behind the creativity and concepts. So together, we deliver perspective on all fronts. That’s something I suppose is really our point of difference, the team together, we give the client an edge.”
How Ambrose Sees the Future of the Restaurant Industry
“The whole world is looking for F&B talents, and people really need to review why so many people have left and are leaving the industry. I left the industry because I was burnt out, but I still love it. Then again, now you also hear and see people who don’t want to invest time in this profession. Nobody’s asking to work 80+ hour weeks, but that experience did give me what I have. This industry requires the discipline of practice and the investment of time, it’s very logical, there’s no corners to be cut.
I really wish to see people caring about the food and beverage quality first, before everything else. If your food is truly delicious, customers will come. Invest in good HR benefits and practices – people are the most important aspect of the business. All the branding, marketing, PR and social media will come. If businesses consider branding and PR first, and place the experience of eating second, these businesses will never be financially sustainable. I really hope we see less gimmicky places, and more venues that just focus on how to serve people the best food and drinks they can, and deliver on a good experience for their customers.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Keep up with Ambrose at @projectambrose
For more on Project Ambrose Consultancy, click here.
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