How Kylie Kwong, one of Sydney’s most beloved restaurateurs, is using her success to support local artisans, businesses and communities. By Kerryn Ramsey
“I landed my first professional cooking job with Neil Perry at Rockpool and stayed with him for six years. I received the most amazing mentorship during my time with Neil.
“In 2000, I fulfilled my dream of opening my own place—a small Chinese eating house called Billy Kwong in Surry Hills. My goal was a simple one: to offer fresh, flavoursome, home-style Cantonese food. I was thrilled to be bring my dream of opening my own restaurant to life, but the whole concept was also daunting. I was going from being a chef to a chef/restaurateur and dealing with the realities of running a business. The response from everyone around me at the time was overwhelmingly positive and contributed to the success of the restaurant.
“After 14 happy years on Crown Street, the time came to gather up our woks and move to a bigger space in Potts Point, where we could grow and take Billy Kwong to the next level. Of course, this experience wasn’t without its own logistical challenges in regard to design, fit-out, implementing systems, hiring staff and the like. However, rather than being stressful, I reflect on this as an exciting time filled with much anticipation of the opportunities that lay ahead.
“David King and myself are co-partners of Billy Kwong. Andrew Cibej was an amazing support when we launched at Potts Point, particularly with getting our wine program up and running.
“Moving to a larger space presented a welcome challenge. It gave us the opportunity to bring to life many collaborations with artisanal producers and winemakers. But with a larger restaurant comes the requirement for more staff, increased time and energy to manage larger produce orders and more sophisticated booking and point of sale systems. Like any business, the more resources required to operate, the more attention is required to ensure you are working in an efficient manner and responding to opportunities and challenges as they arise.
“Our mantra at Billy Kwong is ‘Celebration, collaboration, community’. It guides our meaningful connections with artisanal food and wine producers and is reflected in the dishes we create and serve to our guests.
“We also bring our mantra to our partnerships with a number of local businesses and services around the area, including The Wayside Chapel and St. Canice Parish Rooftop Garden.
“When opening a restaurant, you must be absolutely passionate about cooking and the food industry—and be willing to work harder than you have ever worked before.”
“We collaborate with The Wayside Chapel in a very unique way. Doug Purdie of The Urban Beehive installed a Billy Kwong beehive up on The Wayside Chapel’s rooftop garden. Visitors to the chapel tend to the bees and we buy the honey back from Wayside, so the love goes around.
“I believe these meaningful qualities stay with people, even after they have dined with us. They are the qualities which move us and keep us coming back.
“We also collaborate with a microbrewery, Two Metre Tall, to make our own Billy Kwong bespoke brews and ciders. We also work alongside about 20 of the best Australian vignerons to create our range of Billy Kwong Project Wines.
“We believe that wine should convey a sense of place. They should reflect the character of the land and the people who have created them. All of our wines have a ‘hands-on’ individuality and distinctiveness; they engage, they are worth talking about.
“When opening a restaurant, you must be absolutely passionate about cooking and the food industry—and be willing to work harder than you have ever worked before. The day-to-day life of being a chef and restaurateur is very, very demanding on all levels and as we all know, we chefs are only as good as our last meal. The constant demand for excellence is exhausting yet, of course, extremely rewarding when everything goes well.
“Maintaining a deep respect and collaborative relationship with our producers is important. We chefs can only be as good as the food we are able to put on our plates; the overwhelming passion and care of our primary producers whose commitment knows no bounds is truly inspirational.
“And apart from hard work, quality food, wine, service and surroundings, I believe a restaurant needs to have soul and depth, a strong raison d’être, and a great story to tell.
“We have managed to keep our doors open for 17 years in this highly competitive industry in the fickle city of Sydney. I’d like to think we have managed to make some positive contributions to the community as a whole, through the expression of our BK mantra on a day-to-day level.”