Soho House Interview: Chef May Chow and Little Bao (Hong Kong)

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Soho House: 

Chef May Chow pairs traditional ingredients from Hong Kong with Western cooking techniques to create her stuffed, steamed buns – fans queue around the block for the slow-braised pork belly bao, served with leek and shiso red onion salad and hoisin ketchup.

We sat down with Chow to find out more:

Q: Where’s the best place to eat in Hong Kong right now and what is your favorite dish on the menu?

A: I love The Chairman because of my favourite dish, which is steamed crab with aged Shoaxing wine, chicken oil and flat rice noodles.

Q: How did you get to where you are today and who inspired you?

A: I had a very singular vision about the kind of food I wanted to cook and who I wanted to be very early on in my career. I have to thank Matt Abergel (owner of Hong Kong’s Yardbird) because without his guidance during my restaurant development, Little Bao wouldn’t have been possible. He was honest when he believed something wasn’t good enough and I trusted his opinion.

Q: Tell us about Little Bao and the inspiration behind it.

A: Little Bao is my life translated into a restaurant. It takes inspiration from the best of both Chinese and American culture but most importantly it’s a place to have fun – so expect good food; loud, upbeat music and great cocktails.

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Q: How has your background influenced your cooking?

A: I grew up in a traditional Chinese family and I’m influenced by Chinese culture. When I moved to the US, I was influenced by the freedom of speech and, of course, the food. My cooking draws on both cultures and I love taking traditional ingredients and putting an original spin on them.

Q: What made you decide to open your own restaurant and how did you go about launching it, finding funding and finding the perfect venue?

A: I always knew that I wanted to be a restaurant owner because I felt I had a story to tell through food. The opportunity came when I was offered a booth at a market. The response was great and I started to daydream about opening a restaurant.

I developed a business plan and gained financial support from my family and friends. We scouted for a Hong Kong location for over six months and I ended up taking over a space that was occupied by a hideous Thai restaurant. That was the first right decision I made because it was in my favorite neighborhood in Hong Kong.

Q: Have you ever faced any sexism in the industry?

A: I’m such a positive and happy person that I don’t feel that I’ve ever felt discriminated against, especially in a city like Hong Kong. I am quite an empowered woman and I generally see sexism as ignorance but I don’t experience much of it.

Q: What advice would you give to other pop-ups who are looking to launch their own restaurant?

A: I started as a chef working in restaurants, so my story is slightly different because I already had a basic understanding of the DNA needed for a successful restaurant.

The first step is to develop a detailed business plan and have legitimate solutions for all the questions that crop up. How do you make sure there is consistency in your service, food and experience? Have you developed your service manual? How will you make sure food and drink cost is controlled? Where is the best location for your target market? Who is your target market? Who is your competitor? What is your PR and marketing strategy? What music should you play? How much funding do you need?

Most importantly, though, listen to the people who will provide you smart insight.

Q: How do you think the London food scene measures up to Hong Kong?

A: Both Hong Kong and London have great food scenes but I think while Hong Kong offers the best of every type of Chinese cuisine, London has a bigger array, from great modern British food like St. John and Gordon Ramsey to fantastic Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. London also has a wonderful farmer driven open market that Hong Kong doesn’t have.

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