Exquisite canapés and fish and chips do mix for Jimmy Yu. The sociable founder and CEO of Royal Catering is also on a mission to bring new tastes to China – and aid to communities in need through his charity, Smile With Us.
Could you tell us a little about your upbringing and education?
I was born in Hong Kong and moved to UK when I was 12, attending boarding school at Stamford [in Lincolnshire]. I wasn’t always the most well-behaved student and often got into trouble. When I was at university, I got caught in an incident that resulted in my house arrest for 12 months. Because I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, I spent the first few weeks ordering takeaway, but eventually grew tired of it. It was then that I decided to take up cooking.
What are your fondest childhood memories, and how did your family impact the person you are today?
As I mentioned, I wasn’t always on my best behaviour growing up, but I was fortunately blessed to have very supportive parents who encouraged me to explore my curiosities and pursue every venture. After the incident, which my parents were obviously not too happy about, I realised how phenomenal they were to remain supportive and extremely patient with me despite my wrongdoings. I turned over a new leaf and things started to get better from there. I’ve been able to do and experience a lot of different exciting things in my life, as well as explore my own path and start my own business.
Now that I am a father myself, I’m motivated to work harder and give the best I can to what I do. And similar to how my parents were with me, I want to support my daughter and give her the freedom she needs to explore the things she wants to do, while, of course, keeping a close eye on her.
What led you to found Royal Catering? Did you always want to be in the food and beverage industry?
Although I had my fair share of misdemeanours during my school days, academically I did pretty well. Ever since I was in secondary school, I knew I wanted to start my own business. After boarding school, I enrolled at Regent’s Business School [part of Regent’s University London], where I received a full scholarship.
Upon returning to Hong Kong, I spent almost six years working as a Society Editor at an English luxury lifestyle magazine. But having spent half a decade in the industry and witnessing the transition of publications from print media to digital platforms, I felt it was the right time for me to move onto something new.
My entry into the F&B industry was, admittedly, unexpected, but it made the most sense to me. My years as a Society Editor, travelling the world, trying a range of new cuisines and indulging in some of the best canapés each region had to offer, not only allowed me to build a huge network of professional connections and industry friends, but also helped me realise what I loved doing – eating. Towards the end of 2015, I founded Royal Catering Hong Kong, which provides high-end catering services for luxury brands and private clients including Rolex, Ferrari, Lamborghini and D&G.
You’re very involved in the F&B industry. Why is the food business meaningful to you?
I am a big believer in doing what you love and loving what you do. For me, it’s eating. In Chinese there’s a saying that implies that the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the place you live in and the places you travel are the four pillars that make a good life. I felt that being involved in F&B was the best way for me to help give people a taste of the good life. And catering, unlike restaurants, is never limited to set menus and a particular cuisine, so every single client, season and meeting presents a new challenge to develop something different and unique. In my opinion, it’s not just about the food itself but also about presentation and the value of the entire experience for the client and their guests.
You’re also the CEO of China Royal Food Culture. Could you tell us more about this?
With Royal Food Culture, we try to bring the best of Western cuisine to China. Contrary to its culinary landscape in the past, China is becoming more modernised. People are excited to try new things and explore different cultures. The F&B market has been growing rapidly in the last couple of years. For instance, when I franchised Scotts Fish & Chips diner in Chengdu two years ago, I found that the people there were very hip and trendy; they hold onto the local culture while embracing the Western culture.
Although going to McDonald’s and KFC have become commonplace, and dishes like spaghetti are no longer exotic, the dining scene in China is still lacking in terms of Western varieties, which I want to bring into the country. I want to bring the best of the West to the East in areas where people would appreciate it the most.
Do you have any exciting new projects?
I’ve always found China to be an interesting place. I travel to many different places around the world, yet China still impresses me. Following the successful opening of our first – as well as China’s first – British fish and chips diner two years ago, I’ve been returning to the country in the last few months, preparing to open a new location. Though the pandemic put much of my business plan on hold, it is set to open very soon.
Aside from your work, you also co-founded Smile With Us. What led you to start that charity, and what is its mission statement?
My parents instilled in me the values of kindness and helpfulness so I have always felt obligated to give back to the world. Before I started this charity, I would take a week or two off every year to volunteer in a different country. I’ve been to Botswana, Cambodia, the Philippines and several places in China to help underprivileged children and their families.
Although it’s impossible to help everyone in the world, through Smile With Us we try our best to help different communities facing various challenges. In our first year, we helped those with hearing and vision disabilities. The following year we tried to reach out to people suffering from mental illnesses, and during the pandemic, we helped to distribute masks to the needy and sanitise their homes.
Finally, what is the most interesting thing that you’ve ever done?
I’ve done lots of crazy things from sky diving to bungee jumping. I’m big on sports, too, so I enjoy anything from golf and badminton to tennis and snowboarding. Back in the UK, I used to go camping and I backpacked through Spain. That’s something interesting I’d like to do again in the future – to backpack around the world, meet people and learn new cultures first hand.
Interview by: Roberliza Eugenio
Photographer: Jack Law
Videographer: Kingsley Lau
Art Direction & Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma
Location: The Leicht
Wardrobe: Dolce & Gabbana