Are Restaurants Able to Sustain And Adapt Post Covid-19?

Mott 32’s Malcolm Wood talks about dining, sustainability, and adapting to new norms.
Wednesday 13 May 2020
Restauranteur Malcolm Wood talks about dining, sustainability, and adapting to new norms. Photo: Mott 32

“Food has always been a significant pillar in my life,” shares Malcolm Wood, co-founder of Mott 32 and Maximal Concepts. The restauranteur is half-Chinese, half-English, born in Taipei, educated in the United Kingdom, and lived in several countries throughout my childhood and younger years. Needless to say, his exposure to good cooking and international cuisines started from a young age.

“My maternal grandmother, who lived next door to us in Taiwan, was an excellent home cook and those are still some of my fondest memories of truly authentic Chinese cooking to this day,” he smiles. Malcolm goes on sharing that his paternal grandparents, who are British, not only introduced him to classic English dishes – think roast dinners and sticky toffee pudding – but also were the first people to educate me about sourcing and the importance of knowing where your food comes from. One thing is undeniable with Malcolm: food is a big deal to him.

We sit down with the culinary aficionado to learn more about his journey in the F&B industry, as well as sustainability during a time where new norms are forming:

What led you to work in this industry?

I met my business partner Matt Reid (co-founder of Maximal Concepts), at a university in England – we’ve been best friends and business partners for over 20 years. We then met our third partner Xuan Mu (co-founder of Maximal Concepts), when we moved to Hong Kong in our mid 20s. We opened our first restaurant – a steak restaurant called Blue Butcher on Hollywood Road, Hong Kong in 2012 – which kicked off Maximal Concepts, our hospitality group.

We had been looking to do a Chinese concept, which is a risky bet in a city like Hong Kong where the competition is so fierce for Chinese restaurants, and finally found the perfect, most unique location in the basement of a bank in Central, and opened the first Mott 32 in Hong Kong in 2014.

What led to the decision to open Mott 32 in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore?

When we created Mott 32, we wanted to offer a unique experience different to any other Chinese restaurant that people are used to. We serve classic Chinese cuisine in a contemporary, fine-dining environment – a dramatic departure from traditional banquet-style settings, with white gloved, white table cloth-style service, which is all that was available before.

We are based in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong and Singapore have a long history of inter-connectedness. A lot of people from Hong Kong feel a real affiliation with Singapore, and also vice versa. Opening a branch of Mott 32 really felt like a very natural path of expansion for this restaurant. I have family who have lived here for a long time and my dad is currently based there so there is a really personal affiliation to the city from my side.

We heard that you are deeply involved in preserving the environment. Could you tell us more about this?

Outside of restaurants, climate change awareness is my greatest passion. Last year, I received the honour of being named one of UN Environment’s ‘Mountain Heroes’ as a para-alpinist, as part of a global campaign involving athletes who are advocates for climate change. I am also a brand ambassador for the outerwear clothing brand, Arc’teryx. I consider it my duty to raise awareness around the climate crisis in the mountains and inspire change to prevent further climate deterioration.

I have also been working on a documentary project with my friend and documentary film-maker, Craig Leeson, ‘The Last Glaciers’ which is due to come out this year. I’m very excited to show the world what we’ve been working on for the past 4 years and it is such an important message we are sharing. The purpose of the documentary is to showcase the effects of climate change, as showcased by the diminishing rate of glaciers on the world’s mountain ranges and polar ice caps, and aims to clarify the multiple contradicting messages that have been presented to the public and remove any doubt that climate change is a very serious concern.

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The most important part of positive influence is to surround yourselves by people that inspire you and that bring out the best in you. Energies are contagious and being our best in the current climate for ourselves, for our kids and for the future has never been more important. Being human is about being part of a unit and a family but without great change in our mind set the very things that protects us and allows us to grow and flourish on this earth, will end up destroying us. I am proud to be part of the Arcteryx family who have always strived for the best and always looks towards improving themselves and the protection of our playground. #arcteryx #morthernature #climatecrisis #thelastglaciers #therealcraiglesson #farnorth_productions

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My love for the great outdoors, cooking and sustainability is all embedded in my love for the environment.

Why do you think sustainability is important in the F&B industry?

Sustainability is hugely important to us as a company. We try to look at sustainability has a whole, in the design, the materials we were using to the products that we are cooking with. Yes it’s more expensive to do things this way, yes it’s more effort, but we all need to work on how we do business in an ethical manner and we need to start somewhere. The industry as a whole must continue to learn things we can do to try to make a difference – sustainability in the mind, sustainability in the heart.

The journey is the beginning of the process and as more people become aware, the more customers there are demanding sustainability from the businesses they choose to spend their money at.

Mott32_Assorted dim sum - kong
Assorted Dim Sum platter in Mott 32, Marina Bay Sands. Photo: Mott 32

It’s vital that we adopt these new practices not only for the betterment of the planet – which is the most important thing – but also to preserve our industry in the long run.

What is a small sustainable practice that makes a huge difference to you?

Oftentimes, it can be the less obvious things you wouldn’t immediately think about. For example, at one of our restaurants in Hong Kong, we convinced the landlord of the shopping centre where the restaurant is to eliminate the plastic bags that are typically provided for wet umbrellas – now there is a plastic-free umbrella drying station in each of the developments offices and retail complexes.

It may seem like a small thing, but thousands upon thousands of these plastic umbrella cases are used and thrown away annually in Hong Kong. Whenever we look for a new landlord or tenant for any of our projects we look to work with people that are likeminded.

What is your advice to those in the F&B industry that was impacted by the current COVID-19 situation and how should they best move forward? Would you say those practicing more sustainable practices have a better hand with this change?

The current climate and semi-lockdown state in most parts of the world have allowed us to slow down and appreciate the things we’ve usually taken for granted. I hope we re-emerge from this crisis with a greater appreciation for nature and look at a more sustainable way of life and dining with new perspectives, whether it’s with our customers, suppliers, or co-workers. As we resume restaurant operations progressively, along with businesses of every kind, we have to be nimble and quick to adapt to ‘the new normal’ in order to gain pace once more.

From Las Vegas to Singapore, we have been very fortunate to have launched Mott 32 to great reception from our audiences, and we look forward to welcoming back our regular diners and attracting new guests, once we re-open.