JESSICA JANN INVITES ANA R TO YOUKA.
My lunch date in mid-January is newly married supermodel and businesswoman Ana Rivera. Ana’s exotic looks (her mother is Korean, her father Puerto Rican), great work ethic (she arrived early for our date!), and years of experience have made her a household name among Hong Kong’s fashion savvy. Chatting over authentic Japanese food at the newly opened Youka in Wanchai, we delve into Ana’s new role as dutiful wife – preparing husband Bradley Garland’s meals – her favourite foods, career tips and healthy lifestyle. She’s a big fan of Korean food, green tea and is a not-so-secret Trekkie! She also carries a Star Wars key chain on her handbag . . .
Jess: Congratulations, Ana, on your December wedding! How did you prepare for your big day? You’re always in amazing shape, but did you eat differently or work out more in the run-up to your nuptials?
Ana: I tried to stay away from coffee! I wanted to stay as calm as can be and not stress myself out. I always try to have a decent breakfast as soon as I rise, which helps me get through the day in good shape. I needed to take good care of myself, as I was really busy, planning the wedding, running errands. I had to get everything done within a month; I didn’t even have time to work out!
Jess: Wow, planning a wedding in one month, that must have been hectic. Do you have any advice for newly-engaged couples?
Ana: Give yourselves at least six months before you get hitched! [We both burst into laughter.] Brad [Garland] and I had decided to get married before the end of the year for fung shui reasons and because we knew he would be really busy after the Christmas break.
Jess: What’s your typical diet?
Ana: I generally stick to small meals throughout the day. I don’t like to eat a big meal because I often end up napping. You really do feel tired after a big meal because your stomach is busy digesting all that food. Breakfast for me tends to be green tea and fruits, or toast with peanut butter or Nutella. I like simple, natural foods. I’m a big fan of rice, but I’ll cut that out when I’m dieting. Or I’ll stick to brown rice. I love beef, but lately I’ve been trying to cut down on my red meat intake.
Jess: So you eat pretty healthily?
Ana: Yeah, in general Brad is very health conscious, so I joined him in eating more simply and naturally. As I’m getting older, my eating habits have changed too, which is good because when you cut out certain types of food, you can digest better and be a calmer person. But I often crave Asian foods, and if I could eat more mashed potatoes or instant noodles I would!
Jess: I believe you do a lot of cooking yourself. How did you learn and what do you like to make?
Ana: I do! Especially now I’m with Brad, I’m always cooking for him. I learned how to cook from my mom. I love all things Korean, and I can make a great seaweed soup, a nice grilled fish, and healthy green vegetables, which I make even healthier by using less oil. That’s definitely a bonus to cooking rather than eating out.
Jess: Do you have any other specialty dishes?
Ana: I have a sweet tooth, so I love desserts. I love eating them and making them. The only problem is that my husband will post what we are having on social media and I end up getting a lot of dessert requests from friends! [Laughs] I can’t keep up.
Jess: You’re a very successful model, now represented by Model One Management. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
Ana: I started modelling when I was 13 and travelled all over. I was going to new cities every three or four months, living out of suitcases, and started to find all the travelling really difficult. I came here [in 2007] to open a Gucci show and a Hong Kong booker told me to stay. It also helped that I was dating a guy who was based here!
Jess: What’s the most difficult thing about modelling?
Ana: There are so many, but rejection is the absolute worst. You might not be the right fit or look, it may have nothing to do with you － there are girls who are best for TV, print, runway and so on. I’m lucky enough to be the right height for everything, and lucky that when I came to Hong Kong the bookers loved my look. Mixed and more ethnic-looking girls were in demand then.
Jess: What’s your most memorable job?
Ana: I’ve had tons, but one of the funniest ones was when I was filming a TV commercial with a famous Korean actor. We had to dance the tango and he squeezed me a little too tight so my chicken fillets [bra inserts] fell out!
Jess: Any tips for aspiring models?
Ana: The best tip would be to be careful. Remember, if an agency wants you, you as the model shouldn’t be giving it any money. I’ve heard horror stories where girls spend lots of money trying to break into the business. Another thing I will say to girls is to be persistent if they are passionate about modelling. Send your photos to a lot of different agencies and go to castings. Just try.
Jess: What’s the best tip anyone gave you?
Ana: Breathe. Try and stay calm. Before this lunch, I was apartment hunting and had a bunch of meetings. I’m trying to organise my husband and my own schedule! I never knew another person could or would depend on you so much. So remember, as busy as life gets, just breathe.
Jess: Any New Year’s resolutions?
Ana: I should try and exercise more. But not at 5am like my husband, who is really good about getting up in the mornings, whereas I usually wake at 8am. Yet I still prepare his meals for him!
Jess: What does he especially love that you make for him?
Ana: My chicken and broccoli or vegetable soup!
Jess: And you love him! What a lucky guy.
Ana R’s Faves
Meal: Anything Asian. Something simple and comfortable. Korean!
Comfort food: Mashed potatoes and instant noodles! I wish I could eat them more often . . .
Dessert: Chocolate and peanut butter. I’m a fan of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream, and I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I always tell friends coming from the States to bring me some.
Snack: Everything. I love snacking. I try everything once.
Drink: Green tea or Korean ginger tea
Travel destination: None really. I don’t want to travel as much anymore. Packing and flying is really tiring. If I do go somewhere, I like it to be tropical, like the beach. I’m not a fan of the cold.
TV show: NCIS; crime dramas are my favourite. Sleepy Hollow is good as well.
Movie: Star Trek. I’m a big fan, I love Star Wars too . . . and Miss Saigon is great!
Must-have item: Lip balm
Place in Hong Kong: Lamma island. I used to live there with Lisa S!
Morsels for All
Despite its discrete and understated exterior, Youka is a splashy new addition to the up-and-coming Johnston Road area of Wanchai. It offers delicate, exquisite washoku cuisine – that is, traditional Japanese home-style cooking. Inside, the compact space has a very contemporary feel; it’s dark yet comfy – a hidden gem behind a black mask that is cool and sleek.
Entering the stylish sand- and yellow-toned dining room, it’s immediately apparent that you are in a Japanese foodie haven. The staff are beyond pleasant, polite and as efficient as can be. Anything and everything you would crave from Japanese cuisine is listed on the menu. There’s sushi and sashimi, grilled meat and fish. Youka also specialises in homey stewed dishes, fried treats and oodles of noodles and rice dishes.
Chef Ito Katsuhiro recommends the deluxe sashimi platter; their famous Japanese pork with egg pot – which looks extraordinary; assorted tempura, and whole grilled hokke (mackerel). Ana and I both order a deluxe Youka bento box, which includes a little bit of everything. It’s a visual and tasty treat; bright fresh sashimi, braised pork, hot soup, delectable veggies, plump fried tempura bites and more are neatly packed within. We marvel at the details, whether it be the placement of the pickles or the colours of the side dishes. Each morsel of fish and meat we taste is just as fresh, plump and well-marinated as you would find at one of Hong Kong’s famous fine dining Japanese establishments – and at a quarter of the price.
We are more than happy with our order. Youka may have been open a mere 10 weeks (at time of writing), but it is sure to be on everyone’s lips in the coming months. The ingredients are fresh, the food authentic and the atmosphere terrific. Plus, the menu is so extensive that it appeals to every Japanese food craving. I identify numerous dishes that I want to try, so I’ll definitely be coming back to you, Youka!
Youka, Shop 1D, 35-45 Johnston Road, Wanchai, tel: 2833 5188
Model, actress and foodie Jessica Jann hails from sunny California where she majored in theatre and business at Irvine. She made her screen debut in Lethal Weapon 4 at age eight. Now living in Hong Kong, she’s signed to Bullet Films. Follow her food journey at www.eatwithjess.com and in this column as she takes supermodels out for lunch.