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First Person: Harlan Goldstein

Harlan Goldstein is one of the biggest personalities in the Hong Kong dining scene. After a controversial falling-out with his previous business partners, Harlan left his namesake restaurant to go it on his own—striking gold with, well, “Gold,” his new fine dining dig that opened on Wyndham Street at the close of 2010. We talk to the Big H about management techniques, the local food biz, and what it’s like to lose your name.

By HK staff | Jan 13, 2011

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  • First Person: Harlan Goldstein

I was born on the Lower East Side in New York. It was the ghetto at that time. But I went to high school in Florida. I had a single mom, and was raised basically by my sister, who is five years older than me.

I got up to plenty of mischief until my mom put me to work in my uncle’s restaurant.

That was my discipline, to go into the kitchen in the afternoon and be amongst this very disciplined team of French chefs.

I was always independent, because of my mother. She worked day and night. And I knew how I had to go out and learn to survive to help my mother.

When I was 17, I went to Switzerland, to Montreux Palace, for an apprenticeship chef program for two years.

I came back to the States at 22 years old to run the fine dining restaurant in the New Orleans Hilton and Towers.

I earned respect because of my knowledge. But I was a little bit of a tyrant, a mad chef. If someone didn’t follow my standards, I would freak out. I’m completely different now.

While working in Hawaii, I got my calling card to come to Asia, in 1990: the Shangri-La in Beijing.

I took the challenge. Then a week before I got to Beijing, my new boss called me and said, look everything is fine, but I won’t see you next week, because I’ve resigned.

I went anyway, and I stayed there for three years. It was the best experience I ever had in my life. The restaurants were huge, there was a Chinese restaurant, a buffet, a pub, a coffee shop, banquets of up to 5,000 people.

Then I went for an interview for the Aberdeen Marina Club in Hong Kong. And I saw all these luxury cars in the parking lot. Mercedes, Rolls Royces… What clicked with me was that there were customers here who have been exposed to the world, and would appreciate good cooking.

I used to cook as the private chef for prominent Hong Kong people. One night Walter Kwok was attending one of those dinners. At the end of the meal, I came out to describe the dessert and in front of 15 people asked, “Walter, when are you going to give me a place in your new IFC mall?”

He said, “Come see me tomorrow at 10 o’clock.” I came to see him the next day and his GM showed me the space I could have. After he showed me the space, I thought—oh no, what am I going to do now?

But in a short period of time, I opened Harlan’s, H One, G Bar, and the Box. After Harlan’s, my wife warned me, “Do not open more, it’s not the right thing.”

I told her I had no choice—the market was on fire and I had to establish my brand.

There were rumors about Harlan doing something wrong, but it takes two people to sign a check. You figure it out for yourself. Let the gossip keep going.

I don’t mind lots of accusations flying around. People who tell that story and gossip, they never worked with me—they just heard what someone else said. And you know what? They were talking about me, and I like that. I love it.

Do I regret losing the name? Yes I do. That was cleverly done by somebody who actually ripped me off of my name. In the beginning, it bothered me a little bit. But you know what? I rose above it, and I’m bigger, stronger, and better.

I don’t respect the Michelin stars they give out in Hong Kong. I don’t feel that the inspectors have enough knowledge to inspect Chinese food and give it a rating. But now I heard that they have a lot of Chinese inspectors on their team, which is the way it should be.

If you’re going to put your name on your restaurant like all these three-star Michelin chefs, you’d better have a disciple in the kitchen who can execute what you want to do, or you had better go there more often.

The most important thing for me right now is to get my name back, and to make my restaurant very successful and all the employees on my team very happy.

I feel right now exactly the way I felt in 2004, when the market was just getting revved up and we were gonna go to the moon. A little bit scary.

Gold by Harlan Goldstein, 2/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham St., Central, 2869-9986

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