Foodie Confidential

Zouk's chief executive Andrew Li: Don't be shocked by how much he eats

Zouk's chief executive Andrew Li, who loves Spaghetti Bolognese, consumes most of his calories at dinnertime

The chief executive of night spot Zouk has a peculiar eating habit.

Mr Andrew Li, 34, says he saves almost his entire daily calorie intake for dinner.

He eats light for breakfast and lunch, and then has a heavy dinner, chowing down on "something like two starters and two mains".

"Some people are shocked when they see how much I eat at dinner," he says with a chuckle.

"I have a food coma after dinner, which makes me go to sleep. I feel good going to bed on a full stomach."

The affable bachelor is also into Spaghetti Bolognese, a childhood favourite and his "ultimate comfort food".

So passionate is he about the pasta dish that he and his two brothers have their very own secret recipe for it, which he refuses to divulge.

The brothers even have a shared Instagram account, @mrbolognese, where they rate versions of the pasta dish they try from around the world.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • A plate of Spaghetti Bolognese cooked by my father. He is a great chef. Besides using a mix of beef and pork mince, his recipe also includes chicken liver, which lends the dish a rich and complex flavour.

Mr Li's older brother runs a venture capital firm and his younger brother works for British conglomerate Jardines.

Born in London to a surgeon father and a mother who is the vice-chairman in a headhunting firm, Mr Li studied in the United Kingdom and holds a degree in psychology from Durham University.

Upon graduation, he chose to be a room service waiter at boutique hotel Como Metropolitan London as his first full-time job.

"My parents were okay with it because they knew I wanted to travel the world and do different things," he says.

Under the hotel's employee management programme, he had multiple postings and he found himself working as a bartender in Bangkok.

He recalls enjoying that stint so much that he wanted to stay on, but could not get a visa to do so.

He decided to take a break from work and went to study Chinese in Beijing. In China, he was offered a place in the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong's management trainee programme.

"I wasn't okay with starting back at the bottom, but I needed a job," he says.

Some 41/2 years later, when he was business development manager of the hotel, a friend asked him to take on the role of chief operating officer at Prive group Hong Kong. There, he helped the nightlife and food and beverage group open close to 10 food and beverage establishments.

In 2015, he joined Genting Hong Kong, which acquired Zouk later that same year.

Mr Li, who used to be based in Hong Kong, moved to Singapore two months ago.

With his strong background in hospitality and experience in the food and beverage scene, one may think that the transition to his role as Zouk's chief executive would be fairly simple.

However, he says it was initially a challenge balancing the day and night aspects of the role.

After the party is over and nighttime operations end at 3 to 4am, he gets up early the next day to work on strategic, marketing and financial aspects of the job.

No matter how busy he gets, he finds time to dance, do triathlons and cook. "Cooking helps me to de-stress. It's also a way of creating experiences and memories for myself and others," he says.

Apart from Spaghetti Bolognese, do you have other comfort food?

My mother's home-made fish soup. She pan fries the fish with ginger and then puts it into the soup. Whenever I'm away, that's a dish I miss and I have to have it once I'm back home.

Why is the Li brothers' secret Spaghetti Bolognese sauce so awesome?

Well, one part of the secret is that we massage the minced beef with red wine, Worcestershire sauce, herbs and leave it to sit overnight.

Another "secret" ingredient is buffalo mozzarella cheese. We place a small piece of this into the pasta when it's all done. It helps bind the sauce together and adds another dimension to the flavours. Now, my brothers are gonna kill me.

Which are some of your favourite local eateries?

Hawker stall Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, which serves delicious bak chor mee or minced meat noodles. I've had it four times, but I've not had it since the stall received a Michelin star though, as the queues are very long.

The Tiong Bahru outlet of Sin Hoi Sai Eating House also serves super yummy and tasty har cheong kai (prawn paste chicken) and Moonlight Hor Fun, which comes with a raw egg on top.

Which would you name as your top three favourite restaurants?

Luk Yu Teahouse in Hong Kong, which does great Cantonese dishes. You have to order its double-boiled pig lung soup. The broth is milky and delicious. The sweet and sour pork is excellent.

The experience of dining in Japan's Sushi Ichi is special. It's one of the places where I place the sushi on my tongue fish-down because of the great flavour the fish has.

The chefs there place so much emphasis on perfecting what they do, it is like an art.

The Waterside Inn at Bray, England, is where my family enjoys dining, especially when my brothers and I were studying in Britain. The restaurant serves classic French cuisine and is situated next to a picturesque river. The service there is impeccable.

Do you travel for food?

I've just returned from Mexico City, where I was on an eating trip. There, I went to some of the top restaurants in the world, including Pujol, Biko and Quintonil.

Now that I'm with Zouk and one of its concepts is the Red Tail bar, I also travel to see how I can incorporate dining concepts overseas, here. For example, I recently went on a trip to Las Vegas in the United States, where I visited dining places that are feeders to clubs, to see what people want to eat before and after clubbing.

What was the first dish you cooked?

When I was about 15 years old, I made instant noodles, added the sauce and fried the noodles with chopped Spam and fried egg.

What can you cook?

I'm good at doing roasts. I make a nice lamb rubbed with mustard and rosemary. I puncture the meat with a knife and jam garlic into the flesh before putting it in the oven. I can also do amazing steak, stews, pasta, scrambled eggs and Insalata Tricolore.

How would you describe your palate?

I especially love things rich in umami and dishes such as assam laksa and sweet and sour pork, which combine sweet and sour flavours.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'Don't be shocked by how much he eats'. Print Edition | Subscribe