From a chat with Chef James Oakley from Feather & Bone to a Julian Assange update – here's your week's round-up

TMS sat down with Chef James Oakley, who shared his culinary journey to Hong Kong's Feather & Bone.

From a chat with Chef James Oakley from Feather & Bone to a Julian Assange update – here's your week's round-up
Source: Feather & Bone

Initially established as a sort of mashup of a premium butcher, deli and grocer, Hong Kong’s Feather & Bone spans 10 locations across the city. From letting guests select a cut from the butcher’s counter and preparing it to order to offering a seasonal menu with dishes like Shepherd’s Pie to roasted grass-fed bone marrow and truffled porcini risotto – Feather & Bone is all about a deli-to-table experience that is “tasty and unpretentious.”

If you peek into the open kitchen, you might spot Group Executive Chef James Oakley, calm and collected with his hair meticulously combed back into a ponytail.

Oakley has dedicated his entire career to the culinary arts. His passion for food was ignited at the age of 14 during a part-time job, and he’s never looked back. Over the past two years, Oakley has taken on the role of overseeing each Feather & Bone restaurant, visiting them once or twice a week. However, rather than seeing himself as a traditional senior management type, Oakley views his role more as a “therapist” for his team, providing guidance and support.

TMS sat down with Oakley, who shared his culinary journey and how his food philosophy is a perfect match for the Feather & Bone concept.

From Grandma’s helper to ambitious chef 

Feather & Bone Hong Kong
Source: Feather & Bone

Hailing from England, cooking is the only job Oakley has ever had. “Yeah, I've not done a day of work outside of the industry,” he says. “So if something should happen to me and I can't cook, I'm screwed.” 

Oakley’s passion for cooking began early, rooted in his inherent curiosity about food. “I've always been fascinated by the magic of cooking,” he shares. “Taking ingredients in their raw form and transforming them into something completely different.”

This lifelong passion was nurtured by the quality time Oakley spent with his family. Growing up in the UK, he had fun adventuring out to pick wild food and cooking it with the family. Whether it was blackberries from hedgerows or wild garlic, “It was like a family event, back when I was a kid,” he explains. 

His grandmother, coming from a generation where everything was homemade from raw ingredients, played a big role in his early years learning about food and cooking. She encouraged him to mix ingredients and experiment, even though it involved little actual cooking at first.

As he got older, his skills started to develop more, and she’d allow Oakley to do a bit more in the kitchen. But it wasn't until he was 14 that he got his first taste of the professional culinary world and clicked with it immediately. 

“Prior to that, I hadn't really even thought about a career, to be honest with you,” he says, “So I started working part-time in restaurants, and the atmosphere, the environment, the camaraderie within the kitchen, I really enjoyed it from day one … So I decided pretty much there and then that this is what I'm going to do.” 

A smile flashes across Oakley’s face as he recalls those days. “I used to get into trouble while I was at school because I'd cut days of school to go and work in a restaurant,” he says. “My high school called my mother to school to try and convince me that I shouldn't be pursuing a career as a chef. But I was adamant. I was like, ‘No way, I'm going to work.’” 

With a goal to become the best chef he could be, Oakley naturally wanted to work for the best in the business. At the age of 16, he left school and started working in Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurant at Claridge’s in London. After spending a year and a half there, he moved to Essex to work under another Michelin-starred chef, Jeremy Medley.

“That was probably the best decision I made for my career at that time,” he says. “Although [Medley] doesn't necessarily have the same sort of name as Gordon Ramsay, he works in a smaller kitchen, and you just get to see and do so much more than what you would do in Gordon Ramsay’s.” 

At 26, Oakley took on his first head chef role at Llys Meddyg in Pembrokeshire, Wales. In 2013, he got the opportunity to move to Hong Kong as the executive chef of Aqua Tokyo. After working in the city for over a year, he traveled again to cook in places like Thailand and Europe before returning to Hong Kong around eight years ago.

Click here to read the full interview.

Some of the biggest Headlines this week

🚄Shenzhen clarifies no East Rail extension into Luohu: Shenzhen authorities have clarified they won't extend Hong Kong's East Rail line into the Luohu district. The Lo Wu control point's border clearance setup will also stay the same after renovations, according to Security Secretary Chris Tang. This seems to reverse earlier statements by Luohu officials about connecting the East Rail line and introducing co-location border clearance. Tang mentioned that upgrades at Luohu port will focus on safety and inspection improvements on the Shenzhen side without changing the current layout or passenger routes. Hong Kong and Shenzhen will keep their separate terminals, which are linked by a pedestrian bridge.

📊Cathay’s No. 5: Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways has reentered the world's top five carriers in the latest Skytrax rankings, also earning the top spots for the cleanest airline and best economy class. Skytrax, known for its "independent and impartial" annual list, released the top 100 airlines based on an online traveler satisfaction survey. Qatar Airways was named the best airline for the eighth time, followed by Singapore Airlines, Emirates and ANA All Nippon Airways.

🐼Pandas on the move: For the first time in over two decades, giant pandas are traveling from China to the US. Five-year-old male Yun Chuan and nearly four-year-old female Xin Bao are expected to arrive at the San Diego Zoo later this week after setting off on Wednesday. The pandas will travel 7,000 miles with caretakers who will help them adjust to their new home. They won’t be viewable to the public for several weeks as they get settled in their new environment, where they will live for the next 10 years.

🧑‍⚖️Julian Assange update: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has long been in international news, facing 17 counts of espionage in the US related to WikiLeaks’ release of classified info. Some see him as a symbol of freedom of the press, while others think he’s a national security threat. He was initially facing life in prison, but he struck a deal earlier this week to plead guilty to one charge, giving him a sentence of time served. He returned to his home country of Australia on Wednesday.

🚓Attempted coup in Bolivia: Armored vehicles rammed the doors of Bolivia's government palace on Wednesday in an apparent coup attempt against President Luis Arce. Arce stood his ground and ordered troops to stand down. In a televised statement, Arce vowed to confront the coup and urged the Bolivian people to organize. Former General Commander Juan José Zúñiga, who was dismissed a day earlier and appeared to lead the rebellion, was arrested.

🥊Biden vs. Trump: Thursday evening in Atlanta, Georgia, is drawing a lot of eyes as a showdown presidential debate takes place between current US President Joe Biden and former US President Donald Trump. It's hosted by CNN, and there are some firsts for this debate. It's the first time a current and former president have debated, and it's also the first time it's been held without a live audience since 1960. On top of that, their mics will be muted unless it's their allotted turn to speak – so things should be a little less "interrupt-y" than previous debates.

🐄Cow tax: Denmark, a leading pork and dairy exporter, may become the first country to tax livestock carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions starting in 2030. The proposed levy, announced this week, aims to help the nation reach its 2030 target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% from 1990 levels. Dairy farmers would have to pay a tax per tonne of CO2-equivalent emissions and an annual tax per cow. The proposal still needs to be approved by lawmakers, but it’s expected to pass in Parliament later this year.

🚀SpaceX wins NASA bid: The International Space Station (ISS) is set to retire by 2030 because its parts are reaching the end of their lifespan. This week, NASA granted SpaceX US$843 million to build a vehicle for deorbiting the ISS when it retires. Essentially, it’s going to push the ISS into Earth’s atmosphere, where it will be destroyed. This was supposed to happen with Russian thrusters, but the US has been looking for alternatives in case Russia backs out of the alliance or can’t do it itself.

🤑Amazon joins the two-trilly club: Amazon reached a US$2 trillion market valuation on Wednesday after its stock rose nearly 4%, driven by big investments in artificial intelligence (AI). The e-commerce giant joins Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple and Nvidia in the exclusive US$2 trillion club. Amazon's stock has surged 52% in the past year, partly due to its focus on AI, including business-focused products like AI models and the chatbot Q.

📆OpenAI postpones voice assistant: OpenAI has postponed the launch of its latest ChatGPT voice assistant feature, initially set for release this month. The company announced on Tuesday that the broad release is now planned for later this year. The delay is due to the need for additional safety testing to ensure the new voice version of the chatbot can better detect and block inappropriate content.

Editor's note: This newsletter has been updated to correct a factual inaccuracy. Previously, we stated that the US presidential debate on June 27 was the first one without a television audience. It was actually the first one without a TV audience since 1960.

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Written and put together by Christine Dulion, Elize Lanorias and Krystal Lai.