Grain of Salt is a unique mix of nutrition wellness and the F&B industry. Starting her career as a registered dietitian, Tiffany Shek decided to put her passion for healthy cooking into developing Grain of Salt. Tiffany shares with us her nutrition journey and challenges faced in the F&B industry.
Hong Kong’s first evidence-based holistic wellness hub, Grain of Salt, was founded in January 2021 by Tiffany Shek. A registered dietitian, Tiffany has had years of experience working with patients in public hospitals in Hong Kong. With her passion for nutrition, she fell in love with the life-changing benefits of healthy eating and nutrition balance.
Combining nutritional science and the art of making delicious food, Tiffany constructed Grain of Salt as a hybrid of an eatery and dietetic clinic. Downstairs, customers enjoy nutritious bites where the recipes are designed by Tiffany and her team. Upstairs, Tiffany continues her passion as a dietitian, conducting private consultations. At Grain of Salt, everyone strives to provide food and nutrition that makes you feel good, look good, and do good. Read on to learn about Tiffany’s journey and visions.
Can you tell us more about Grain of Salt?
The name “Grain of Salt” has two meanings- firstly, the small amount of salt reminds people about balance and moderation. We definitely need salt in our bodies for functions like muscle contraction and acid base balance, but if we have too much of it, it could lead to negative effects like hypertension. Using salt as an example, it is a good way to show that everything in life needs a balance and should be enjoyed in moderation.
The second point is inspired by the saying “take things with a grain of salt,” reminding people to be wise in what you hear and believe. When it comes to nutrition, it seems like there’s a lot of information spread around what nutrition should be, and what diet is good or bad for you. Knowing this, I think it’s important for me, as a registered dietitian, to remind others that health is never “one size fits all.”
What may work for one person could not work for you, so it’s always reliable to refer to safer measures, such as going to see a health expert to get a trustworthy source of information. Our goal is to debunk all the health myths and to provide our customers with a down-to-earth strategy to achieve their health goals through consultations and our foods as well.
What initially inspired you to start a holistic wellness hub?
Before I started Grain of Salt, I was seeing clients on a one-on-one basis, to help their nutrition journey. But for the longest time, I loved to cook. I consider myself a foodie, and enjoy creating recipes. I have had experience creating recipes for magazines and newspapers, and even spent some time working in the kitchen.
Being a dietitian, I wanted to somehow marry the two concepts together. While working with clients, I realised that [by] merely providing them with suggestions and information, they might not be able to execute these solutions in cooking. Especially in Hong Kong, people are very time-poor. So I thought it would be best suited to create this concept of making healthy eating more achievable and enjoyable.
Did you have any challenges when merging your role as a dietitian with the F&B industry? How did you overcome them?
Of course. Starting an F&B business is a completely new set of skills I had to acquire. While I was trained to work in a hospital, or seeing clients privately, F&B includes so many other aspects. From the interior design of the store, to accounting and financing, or even employee management and recipe testing and quality control, all of these were very new to me.
Along the way, I have had many opportunities to learn about the F&B industry, and there is still much room for me to grow in that.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from working in F&B?
Working in the hospital, workers usually stay for the long term. However in F&B, the turnover rate is a lot faster. So even though you put a lot of energy and heart to train someone or try to teambuild, what I’ve noticed is that the culture of the industry involves a lot of constant diverting and problem solving.
To stay on top of the fast changing operations, I’ve learnt that there’s no point in fixating on the same solution when it’s not working. You should be open to several options, constant testing, and having a plan B.
What is your creative process like when designing new menus?
At Grain of Salt, our dishes are made of ingredients that people are familiar with, but with a healthy twist. For example, Taiwanese braised pork rice is often high in fatty meals and oil, which is not good for our blood cholesterol. So, when we design our popular braised pork rice, I would replace the meat’s protein with soy-based products such as tofu, or foods that help reduce cholesterol, such as mushrooms which are high in soluble fibre.
Like this, we usually get inspired by very hearty, well-accepted, cultural foods, and put our health twist to make it enjoyable and extra healthy.
Being a huge foodie myself, I always try to create dishes that I personally will enjoy and dive into when I’m eating out. I want it to be both healthy, accessible, and delicious for everyone to enjoy.
What are your favourite dishes on the menu?
For hot dishes, I recommend our “Eat Pasta, Run Fasta.” I love food puns! It’s a seafood pasta dish, with a tomato base sauce. Most importantly, the spaghetti is whole-wheat to increase fibre intake, keep you fuller for a longer time, and help with sustaining energy. I think this would be our favourite pasta dish.
Of more Asian cuisine, my favourite is the “Soup-er Dumplings.” The soup is prepared without salt, but with mushrooms for six hours, it’s similar to a Consommé.
There’s a total of seven veggie dumplings with the soup – we actually started with five, but I feel that it would be more comforting and filling to add a few extra dumplings.
While dumplings are often made with fatty meat to enhance the juicy texture, that puts a cost on our health, we made the dumplings with tofu, mushrooms, carrots, and napa cabbage. Once all minced together, we season with herbs and spices to give more flavour and heat.
What can we look forward to seeing from Grain of Salt?
We have a lot of interactive and supporting activities and events coming up! To begin, we just implemented our Farmer’s Initiative, in which customers are able to order a fresh basket of fruits and vegetables from our website online, and on Tuesdays, can come to our store to collect their order. All harvest comes from a collective of organic farms called Farmers Pride. I directly engage with farmer David, who helps to liaise with specific farms to harvest the crops according to the amount of orders received. This aligns with one of the pillars at Grain of Salt- to give back to local communities, especially local farmers.
I found that the level of nutrition is the most retained compared to imported products, and this way we can encourage healthy, nutritional eating habits as well.
Grain of Salt also organises a weekly Saturday run along the waterfront promenade, welcome for anyone to join. Sign up online, and runners can enjoy a free cup of coffee at Grain of Salt after!