Aspiring restaurateurs head to Taiwan in ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ fashion

Written by Staff Writer, CNN Hong Kong

When your job description includes everything from administration to catering to music production, one would think a restaurant’s workforce would be short of talented cooks.

But if you work at South China Seafood Restaurant in Hong Kong, recently you could count the talents of the people staffing its restaurants among your ‘talents.’

After almost a decade of caring for his ailing father, staff member Zhan Yii Jun decided that he wanted to spend more time with his family — and unsurprisingly, decided to take advantage of a Hong Kong restaurant chain’s “day off” policy.

In May, a number of employees of Hong Kong’s South China Seafood Restaurant flew to Taiwan to make the trip, which cost the restaurant group $650,000 (KHK2.05 million).

Zhan Yii Jun, head chef of Hong Kong’s South China Seafood Restaurant, travelled to Taiwan to spend time with his family. Courtesy of Zhan Yii Jun

“I must admit, I’m sorry for my poor cooking when I fly to Taipei,” jokes Zhan, a head chef at South China Seafood Restaurant and the father of two children.

Zhan is one of a select group of South China Seafood Restaurant employees in Hong Kong who has received a traditional day off as part of the company’s “Rookie Day Off” program.

(South China Seafood Restaurant declined to comment for this story.)

Equating the experience to a “holiday” with the support of their bosses, the employees drive specially-designed customized itineraries (including airport transfers) to shore up a tricky juggling act — working and spending time with their loved ones.

“For me, this has been a difficult journey to create time for my dad, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and is confined to a wheelchair,” says Zhan.

“It was a very emotional process, because I wanted to spend time with my dad, but it also meant that I could move on with my career as well.”

Zhan Yii Jun takes his turn at the kitchen with his wife, Hui Po, an assistant chef at South China Seafood Restaurant. Courtesy of Zhan Yii Jun

Amid the cramped corners of their kitchen, their dishes may not represent the best of Hong Kong, but the staff there are making one thing clear.

“Staff members are busy fulfilling their duties at their jobs and so I often have to remind my staff that they don’t have to miss their families to cook for customers,” says Hui.

While many may expect South China Seafood Restaurant to keep things simple with the menu and relaxed staff policies, that’s simply not the case.

In 2016, the Hong Kong eatery wowed crowds with its refreshing cocktails, mulled wine, five-course chili-flavored feasts and luxurious entertainment like cold-speed snorkeling.

It also hosts sales meetings at sea, where business colleagues jet across the ocean to a boardroom in a luxury yacht before sharing platters of prawns and oysters.

“The staff who take the ‘Rookie Day Off’ get the benefit of owning their talent, which is valuable for many different reasons,” says Todd Krayzelj, regional head of Campbell Soup International for South China, North Asia, and the Middle East.

“Beating the everyday bar and collaborating in a collaborative way with your team members has tangible benefits for the business.”

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