Interview by: Bailey Atkinson
With the gender balance in the hospitality sector still famously out of kilter, was that something you struggled with when you first entered the business?
Well, there wasn’t any obvious discrimination, with no one saying they wouldn’t hire me because I was a woman. Instead, it was more a case of microaggression, for example, with people seeing me as more suitable for a pastry chef role than taking centre stage in a hot, busy kitchen. That all adds to the perception that women should stick with the salads and not carry heavy things, that they’re somehow inferior.
While you worked with many well-known male chefs prior to opening your own restaurant, were there any women who made a strong impression on you along the way?
The first woman that I worked for was a Boston-based pastry chef named Karin. I loved her because, even though she had graduated with joint honours in aerospace and electrical engineering from MIT, she’d opted for a career in pastry as that was her passion. She trained me so well that I could make everything on the menu after just three months. For me, she was my MIT professor and she allowed me to major in pastries.
Flashing forward a little now, in 2012, you opened your first restaurant – Little Bao. Can you tell us more about that experience?
Looking back, I was so naive. I opened that restaurant without having any clear idea as to how to go about it. I had, however, seen others do it and I believed I could replicate what they had done and be successful. At the time, I felt like I was drowning, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to learn how to do everything. One day, I would be washing the dishes, the next, I would be front of house.