For the food obsessed, Malcolm Wood represents a new dining adventure with this month’s hotly-anticipated opening of Mott 32 at Marina Bay Sands – the Singapore offshoot of the hip Hong Kong modern Chinese restaurant. As the managing director and culinary director of Maximal Concepts, he and his partners Matt Reid and Xuan Mu have built up a successful string of design-centric eateries in Hong Kong, and charted a global path for Mott 32 by opening outlets in Las Vegas, Vancouver, Seoul and now Singapore, with more in the pipeline.
But there’s a lot more to the British-Chinese entrepreneur than serving Apple Wood Roasted Peking Duck or Iberico Pork with Soft Quail Egg and Black Truffle Siew Mai in show-stopping surroundings inspired by Singapore’s tropical flora. He’s also an eco-warrior who actively campaigns to raise awareness of climate change in mountains, after personally witnessing the fast eroding snow conditions in the Alps. The extreme sportsman who is one of a small number of para-alpinists in the world (one who hikes up to the mountain tops and parachutes off) has also made nature documentaries on the topic. Besides running his own sustainability-focused film production company, he and partner Mr Reid also have other businesses in different industries which share the common thread of environmentalism, wellness and of course, F&B.
How did you get to be so interested in food, especially since some of the dishes at Mott 32 are actually your family’s recipes?
I was surrounded by passionate cooks from a young age – my mother and grandparents on both sides cooked a lot. I was born in Taipei and I grew up eating home-cooked Chinese meals at my maternal grandmother’s house. And I went to school in England where I spent most of my weekends with my paternal grandparents in the countryside. My grandfather, in particular, taught me about the provenance and value of food – how important it is to source things responsibly and to know where your food comes from. Fergus Henderson (of St John restaurant in London) is one of my culinary icons – he was the first person who really highlighted the value of nose-to-tail cooking and ethical sourcing to me.
While it’s trying to change, the F&B industry is notorious for food and plastic wastage. How does Mott 32 do its part?
Sustainability is hugely important to us as a company. We try to look at it as a whole – from the design and materials we are using, to the produce we source for cooking. We do our best to source ingredients locally but we also find retailers who have above-board ethical practices from sustainability to animal welfare.
People are more conscious of how the things they consume (restaurants included) and the businesses they run have an impact on the environment. The hope is that sustainable and zero-waste practices become the industry norm.
Sustainability is second nature to you. What made you want to do more?
Nature and the outdoors have always been a huge part of my life. I spent a lot of time in the English countryside with my grandparents and my father put me in skis when I was two. Mountain climbing and paragliding were very natural progressions for me as an avid skier spending so much time in the mountains.
This, in turn, made me very conscious of the effects of climate change. I would go skiing in the Alps one season and return the next only to notice the glaciers had shrunk significantly. Sometimes there was a lot less snow and it felt distinctly warmer. It became impossible to ignore and ever since, fighting the effects of climate change and paving the way for more sustainable practices informs the way I run my businesses.
You’re even making a documentary on it?
Yes, it’s called The Last Glaciers and I’ve been working on it for the last four years with director Craig Leeson. It follows my involvement in A Plastic Ocean (a Netflix documentary made by Leeson) as I sit on the board of its foundation – it’s about single use plastics and the effect it has on our food chain.
The idea for The Last Glaciers came to us when Craig joined me on a ski trip to the Alps, but even in December there was a serious lack of snow. Locals were concerned and the conversations focused on whether climate change was to blame. We met up with some of the best climate scientists and they confirmed our worst fears. Since then, we’ve been around the world investigating climate change further with NASA, the United Nations and other top research institutions. This film is the culmination of our findings, delivered in a way that will entertain and educate audiences. Currently we’re in talks with distributors to release the film early this year. It’s a self-financed project and any unavoidable flying for the film was offset with carbon credits.
The United Nations appointed you as a ‘Mountain Hero’ for your work and you’re also an ambassador for sportswear brand Arc’teryx. How does it influence your work?
For me, my love of nature, food and sustainability are all interwoven into one journey and each project or partnership is formed to support the other and ultimately drive awareness. As an entrepreneur I would say I try to be conscious of the world around me, and only create products that I feel are genuinely needed and will be appreciated by consumers. I’m not interested in filling space with hot air.
Being successful in highly competitive Hong Kong shows you’re pretty savvy with your investments. Can you share your strategy?
There are different ways of investing in the restaurant industry. You can either invest in the creation of a new concept or buy a franchise and bring it to Hong Kong. We opted to create our own brands and it’s something I’ve really loved doing over the years. Hong Kong is the gateway to the rest of Asia and is a good testing ground for new concepts. We have such a strong dining culture in Hong Kong, and the same applies in Singapore. You have a captive audience ready to sample whatever concept you’re creating.
For international projects, we focus on finding the right partners. They tend to be global hotel groups who have iconic properties in gateway cities, and we have an excellent partnership with the Sands group. Partnerships are key to running successful projects in countries where your own company doesn’t have a strong infrastructure. In terms of investment returns, it really depends on the initial investment. We have been known to return investments in less than a year but I wouldn’t want to divulge our secrets too much here!
What are your business plans after Singapore?
We currently have two more international openings of Mott 32 scheduled for 2020 – one in the world’s first Orient Express Hotel in Bangkok and another in the Gangnam district of Seoul.
(Related: Where to eat in 2020)
This article was originally published in The Business Times.