May Chow has experienced an impressive and meteoric rise to being named 2017 Asia's Best Female Chef, an award she is set to receive on 21 February in Bangkok when the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list will also be announced, which you can watch live on Fine Dining Lovers here.
Her most well known venue in Hong Kong is Little Bao, a restaurant which celebrates both contemporary Chinese and American culinary styles. Chow grew up in the city but studied abroad, meaning she has embraced both Western and Asian cultures. Her inspiration for Little Bao came from David Chang's Momofuku noodle bar, which introduced Taiwanese style baos to the US culinary scene.
As she explains, “Baos – steamed buns – are a comfort food in many Chinese households, where the American equivalent would be burgers. For that reason, I was trying to create a one-of-a-kind dish which is rooted in traditional Chinese dining culture and demonstrates the merits of comfort food. The most important cooking philosophy for me is that it tastes delicious and it’s unique, yet familiar. I don’t feel the need to show off technical skill. I feel that eating should be fun and food should connect emotionally whether it’s to the food or the sharing of experiences with friends.”
A role model for local Asian female chefs
As far as the coming award is concerned, Chow is frank in her reaction: “I was really surprised at first and then fear set in because I knew that I had to deliver and contribute even more to my peers, particularly female chefs. Upon accepting this award, I realised I had to be brave and strive my best to act as a role model. Being a celebrated female chef comes with responsibility and I hope that my experience is something that future female chefs can relate to and provide hope for local Asian female chefs to have the belief that if they aspire, they can achieve.”
On a personal level, it's clearly a proud achievement, one which comes with responsibility and even a sense of "social duty," as she calls it: “I feel very honoured to receive this award. It is definitely a significant recognition for my work. For years, I did things for myself and now I feel like I do it to pave the way for local Asian female chefs or local Hong Kong chefs that didn’t believe they were worthy of recognition despite their talent.
"Meanwhile, I understand that there is a lack of representation of female chefs in our field, especially in Asia. Being a celebrated female chef comes with a sense of social duty. I hope that my experience is something that future female chefs can relate to and serves as something more or less like a goal for local Asian female chefs. It will also encourage that if they aspire for excellence, they can achieve it.”
A new restaurant and 'a platform to shine'
Always modest about her achievements and ability, Chow explains that she expects the award to allow her to grow as a restaurateur and further empower others with talent, to give them a "platform to shine:" “I’m about to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong that I’m very excited about, called Happy Paradise – it will be a destination centred on carefully-designed drinks and technique-driven Chinese cooking. The next challenge I set for myself is to be a well-rounded restaurateur who offers great opportunities to local chefs, while continuing to explore my Chinese food heritage.
"The award is a platform to share my personal experience to inspire others to follow this path and achieve self-fulfilment in their lives. I try my best to promote within and to give opportunity to local chefs to gain what I call a global perspective. I also participate in more charity work nowadays. I’d like to grow my business so I can do more for talented people around me who need to be given a platform to shine.”