Q&A: Liz Seaton, ‘The Boss’ who caters all across Hong Kong

Food has always played an essential role at social events, whether for family members or business colleagues. However, in a city where the pace of life is continuously speeding up, fewer people have the time to prepare a meal for themselves, let alone for others. This is precisely where caterers such as Gingers Ltd. come in. Founded by Scottish chef Liz Seaton 15 years ago in a space of merely 500 square feet, Gingers quickly gained success; the company now has 15 full-time staffers and more than 2,500 clients. We recently caught up with Seaton to learn more about running a business in Hong Kong and the key to her success.

Liz
Liz Seaton — founder and managing director of Gingers Ltd. — also referred to as ‘The Boss’.

You built your business from the ground and now you have over 2,500 clients and you’re celebrating a 15th anniversary. What is it that made Gingers such a success?
By keeping the business consistent and not taking on every job that comes in. It is important for us to be able to focus on our clients’ needs, and we are ready to go that extra mile for them. From the initial inquiry to the event date, we work closely with our clients to ensure that the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, and can be quite flexible when it comes to last minute additions or changes.

It’s important to cater to clients’ preferences, but do you have a signature culinary style that you go by? What separates you from other caterers?
Our food is mainly Western-orientated but we also cater to an Asian palate. I believe what makes us different from other caterers is that we are consistent, very reliable, having good staff that know what they are doing and offering a fail safe menu as well as being one of the first independent caterers in Hong Kong.

Hongkongers tend to get bored easily when it comes to food options, how often do you update your menus?
I used to update the Menu Pack once a year but now with the new technology we are able to update our menus on our website daily if needed. I also create four quarterly dinner/lunch menus for our corporate and private clients throughout the year. We do have clients who use us on a regular basis, maybe five or six times per week and others who use us two or three times a month. Until now they don’t seem to get bored as we have a vast selection of menus.

BBQ roast duck in crisp won ton cups with hoisin sauce & green onion
BBQ roast duck in crisp wonton cups with hoisin sauce & green onion.

Do you have any signature specialties?
We definitely have some favourite canapés that have been around for a long time, such as BBQ Roast Duck in Crisp Won Ton Cups with Hoisin Sauce & Green Onion, Wild Mushroom Ragout in a Parmesan & Pepper Tart and Roast Beef with Bite-Size Yorkshire Puddings.

How much or how little do you pay attention to local and international dining trends in terms of what you offer?
I pay a lot of attention to this but of course it is quite difficult to recreate foods from restaurants as the venues we cater in have very limited “kitchen” areas. This would normally mean we are working in a store room with no ventilation or extraction, but we try our best to be as accommodating as possible.

Where do you source your ingredients?
Our ingredients are mostly imported but we do occasionally use some local fruits & vegetables. We get our cheese and cream from France, prawns from Vietnam, Salmon from Norway and edible flowers from Holland to name but a few.

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Chorizo parmesan tuille with roasted vegetables, goats curd & parma ham

People in Hong Kong are more aware of the health concerns with their food. Do you offer organic, gluten-free options?
Yes, I do my best to keep up with the current food trends and our clients are definitely more and more concerned with what they eat. Yes, we can offer menus which are gluten-free as well as items for vegans, paleo and many other special dietary requirements. We offer organic and sustainable foods but as the cost is still quite high, we find that it is above our client’s budget. We do have a client who we specially ordered sustainable fish for, and they are happy to pay the premium for this ingredient.

What is the most unusual request you’ve got from clients?
Blue-coloured/themed food — not that appealing! There was also a wedding held within a secret garden and the dinner was served above a derelict swimming pool where dining tables were suspended a level, so the guests looked as if they were swimming!

Corporate giants play a big role in your business, do you also cater small private events with a smaller budget?
Of course, this is how Gingers first started. I used to only be able to do small dinners or cocktail parties while working as a corporate chef during the day.

What’s the price range?
We have our Simple Cocktail Menu from HK$180 per person to our Dinner Party with a Chef at HK$720 per person and everything in between.

private events
Gingers caters for both corporate and private events all over Hong Kong.

How has your business changed in the last 15 years?
We have grown in size, from 4 staff to 15 full time and over 50 including our free-lance staff. Our menu choices have also grown to cater to clients request. Our service is more polished and our range of equipment is more sophisticated.

You describe your staff as the backbone of the company, what is the work distribution like?
I would say the distribution between the office and kitchen/equipment/FOH is about 50/50. The office works with the clients to confirm all the details and arrange the staff, then it’s passed to the kitchen, front of house and equipment teams to prepare the food and organize the different parts of the event. On occasion, we do have the office staff help out in the kitchen, storeroom or at an event. We call ourselves the Gingers family and I pride myself, in the fact that I have had staff with me from the start.

You worked as a chef when you started Gingers, do you still take part in the cooking process now that the business has grown so big?
These days I don’t spend too much time cooking in the kitchen. My Head Chef Keanu controls the kitchen and manages the team well. However, if we have too many parties that needs chefs then I have no problem in putting on my Gingers’ t-shirt and cook a fantastic meal for one of our clients.

What can we expect from Gingers in the near future?
Continuing to keep up with food trends and creating delicious food.

Gingers, A1 Lower Ground, Hing Wah Mansions, 2 Oaklands Path, Mid-Levels, Hong Kong, +852 2964 9160, gingers.com.hk

This article is presented by Gingers Ltd.