What inspired you to be a chef?
I was lucky. My passion for everything to do with food and restaurants started when I was young, watching my mother cook and watching food TV shows like Yan Can Cook. I watched the food channel religiously while growing up in Canada, Hong Kong and the US. I always gravitated towards eating and cooking at a young age. When I was in kindergarten, my mother and I would cook together.
How did your passion for food evolve?
When I was 17, I was lucky enough to eat at Le Bernardin [the legendary three-Michelin-star restaurant in New York] and my mind exploded. My parents, a textile merchant and a housewife, wouldn’t allow me to go to culinary school so I only got my first chance to work in a proper kitchen during my last year in college. I came back to Hong Kong and eventually worked at Bo Innovation [three Michelin stars], which planted a seed in my mind that creativity and Hong Kong food can be celebrated in all shapes and forms. I had my own voice very early on and I definitely didn’t fit well in other people’s kitchens. So I decided to open my own restaurant after a few years. My passion for food is an emotional feeling that sits heavy in my heart and it always calls on me and steers me to want to create my own path.
Why did you choose bao as the main dish you wanted to get serious with?
The gua bao gained a lot of traction in the US because of Momofuku noodle bar. I simply wanted to do something that wasn’t available in Hong Kong at that time to support the first Island East market. We took inspiration from the gua bao, gave it our own spin and turned it into a Chinese burger. It was an honest, simple idea. I thought of it as a one-off thing but it started to build its own following as we were popping up at Island East Market and then Clockenflap music festival. I knew very early on that I was going to play with Chinese ideas, bao just happened to be the first one.
Why did you decide to open the second Little Bao in Bangkok?
I was offered a lot to open in multiple cities but I thought that Bangkok has a vibrant up and coming food and beverage scene and the local food and culture was great. I’ve travelled to Bangkok a lot over the years and developed a fondness for the city. I love Bangkok because of the people, the culture and the food. I thought that it was a vibrant, safe city that had a certain grittiness and character similar to Hong Kong. I think it was also timing and the space that was presented to us.
How do you see Bangkok’s food scene?
It’s quite exciting and there is a lot to offer. The greatest thing is that there is a huge population and also a lot of physical space and interesting sites. That’s something we don’t have the luxury of in Hong Kong because of the high costs of real estate and strict rules. Hong Kong is probably a couple years ahead of Bangkok in terms of eating trends and openness to things like natural wines, craft beers and such. However, I think it’s catching up really fast and there are some very interesting developments like The Commons which Hong Kong has yet to develop.
Have you had a chance to eat out much in Bangkok? Any highlights?
I love Raan Jay Fai for the simplicity of the stall but the intensity of the lady who wears goggles to stir fry her noodles and make her crab omelet. I go to Bo.lan quite often as well. I also go to a street food stall that does the best pork neck in town. It’s on Suan Plu Soi 3—I have no idea what its name is, though.
From this story, UK's three-Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White spoke about Michelin stars and street food stalls, saying that "Michelin has done all of them a disservice by not giving all of them a star.” Do you agree with him?
I think his point is that they have opened a completely new genre of Michelin-star-worthy street stalls. So the idea is that if you’re going to open the genre, then either give all the street stalls at the same level the same accolade or don’t even start. To be honest, I didn’t grow up with Michelin stars so I don’t have a strong desire for it compared to other chefs and I feel bad for European chefs that spend their lives chasing this accolade and now it’s been diluted in Asia. I respect mom and pop shops but it seems irrelevant for them to have Michelin stars as how it is defined now. For me, I think it’s a bit more about noise and marketing to have headlines like “cheapest Michelin star in the world” than a genuine effort to award the hard work of chefs of different levels.
What’s next for you?
I have already opened a new restaurant in Hong Kong that I’m very excited about, called Second Draft. Little Bao and the bao trend was something that almost chose me. It became bigger than anything I could have imagined and it consumed me. Second Draft is a partnership with the best beer makers and experts in Hong Kong and I wanted to create a restaurant concept that worked in a very hard-to-succeed neighborhood. The food is interesting yet accessible to everyone, almost downplayed to complement the beer. There’s much more Shanghai influences in the food here due to my family’s background but it’s a fun twist on true Hong Kong gastropub food. I like creating genres for my city that didn’t exist before.
What about Little Bao Bangkok?
We wanted to do a few more items that we might not do in Hong Kong but believe will work well with the Thai demographic. They generally do like things more on the spicy side!
In celebration of being named Asia's Best Female Chef 2017, May Chow drops by Little Bao Bangkok and teams up with three of Bangkok’s top chefs this Feb 19 to host 8-Hands Banquet, a special six-dishes-plus-four-drinks dinner.
The evening sees chefs Rangsima Bunyasaranand (of Little Beast), Thitid Tassanakajohn (of Le Du) and Dylan Jones (of Bo.lan) cooking up a Chinese-Thai family-style dinner, paired with cocktails from Jamie Rhind (of Bamboo Bar), Saimai Natarat (of Bunker), Somkanay Singha and Minway Chi (of Bootleggers).
B1,800 per person. Do expect duck shumai, steamed crab with egg and rice, grilled fish curry wrapped in banana leaf and red fermented short ribs. To book your spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 081-929-6562.
G/F, 72 Courtyard, 72 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thonglor), 02-392-6922