DB: Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Zhuhai?
JD: I’ve lived in the area for years, but Zhuhai (Tanjia in particular) features the Zhuhai International Circuit, and my thing is motorcycle racing and stunts – which you can probably tell as soon as you walk in with all the bikes on display! Also the fact that Zhuhai borders Macau, is only an hour from Hong Kong and is relatively inexpensive to live in are all factors. This area in particular is vibrant – it is in close proximity to universities with their numerous students and foreign teachers that often fancy something a little bit different to eat.
DB: Where did you learn your trade?
JD: My mother has been in catering for over forty years back in the UK. She’s still doing the same now, despite her age. She is my one and only inspiration. After learning the basics with her I became confident enough to start my own restaurant – Tigi Tapas is my first attempt at this, and so far it’s been a huge success.
DB: Tell us about your recent expansion into the unit next door.
JD: My original space was relatively tight – I had approximately only four tables inside, plus a few others outside. However we recently managed to secure the vacant unit next door, so space is no longer an issue. We’ve turned the original area into a deli, serving fresh sandwiches and snacks, and if you fancy a home-from-home there are many British brands on display, including John West and Heinz. The main restaurant and bar is now in the new area. I can’t say I’d ever really considered installing a bar, but when the opportunity arose I just thought ‘why not?’
DB: What do you do when you’re not running Tigi Tapas?
JD: I was a professional motorcycle stuntman and racer. Bikes have always been my passion, and my career took me all over the world. Let me recite what was a typical day at the Asian Formula 3 for me - in the morning I provided three hours of live TV commentary, and this was followed by performing a fifteen minute stunt show in the afternoon - wrapping things up towards the end of the day with a couple of races! One thing I have never lacked is energy - adrenalin fuelled energy. This keeps me going even today, like on a busy day in the kitchen for example.
DB: What’s on the menu today?
JD: I do have a menu, although there is too often a new addition that has to be added. I like to try new recipes and serve different food. My mission is to provide quality, natural food - no artificial ingredient are used, especially MSG, the ingredient most widely used in Chinese cuisine. I often find myself up at 5am to source the freshest produce in Zhuhai. All food is prepared by me from scratch – It’s the only way I can be sure that what I am serving is nothing other than quality.
DB: Can you recommend a dish? What’s your favourite?
JD: This probably has to be my Butter Chicken. Whilst trying to maintain some degree of modesty, I can say that it is probably the best Butter Chicken available in the area (at least, that is what I’m told!). No less than twenty five ingredients make up the dish.
DB: How many employees do you have?
JD: Two - one full time, one part time. I’m a firm believer in treating staff well, so both are well paid and treated with the utmost respect.
DB: Any significance to the ‘Tigi’ name?
JD: I wanted the name to be unique. ‘Dragon’ is a highly popular restaurant name throughout China, and I decided to still use one of the twelve animals yet one that was slightly less common, so I settled on Tiger, or ‘Tigi’. The Tiger theme is prevalent in the design – orange and black has been maintained throughout – even one of the motorcycles on display is in these colours!
DB: What’s the best thing about running a restaurant like Tigi Tapas in Tanjia?
JD: I am here to enjoy my job. I love experimenting and trying new dishes and different drinks (which includes my most recent selection of beer cocktails).
DB: And the worst?
JD: I don’t really get much time to eat! On a busy day, I could be up in the early hours sourcing fresh produce, be cooking throughout the day and finish up about 1am. It can be stressful – I run on very little sleep and it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s about more than just making money, it's very rewarding in other ways too, I wouldn’t rather be doing any other job right now.
DB: What advice would you give to anyone else starting up in China?
JD: Simple, treat others how you would like to be treated yourself. That goes for any country, and China is certainly no exception.
DB: Is there anything you would have done differently?
JD: “Get a job in a bank!” (laughs) No, everything is fine. I’m pleased with how it’s all gone. It was slow to start with, of course, but any new restaurant is bound to face this. A couple of years down the line, thanks to perseverance and determination, I can safely say that we possess a good reputation. I love my job, my wife and my children – what more could I ask for!