Cover Mandy Goh and Suzana Anwar

St. Regis Langkawi's Mandy Goh and Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur's Suzana Anwar share a glimpse into their professional lives

We’ve all heard the misogynistic saying, “women belong in the kitchen”. Yet the irony is that the F&B industry is dominated by men.

Tatler recently reached out to Chef Mandy Goh, executive chef at The St Regis Langkawi, and Chef Suzana Anwar, pastry chef at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, to talk about their journey and the challenges they encountered on the way up as professional female chefs. This is how our Zoom conversation went down.

See also: How These Women Embraced Womanhood Through Their Passion for Food

How did you get your start as a chef?

Mandy Goh: I started as a trainee at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur before becoming its junior chef.

Suzana Anwar: I love to cook and bake, that’s why I joined this industry. My first hotel was the Crown Princess Hotel, now DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur. At 17, straight after school, I joined the hotel industry working in coffee houses and helped out on the desserts. That's when I realised I had an interest in making pastries. 

What made you decide to pursue a career as a chef?

MG: I didn’t have much confidence as a student; I didn't like to study and would always cycle around with my friends. When I was 17, I would cook things like char bee hoon and chicken chop. I would wake up at 5am to cook and bring them to class to share. I would also read up and learn about cooking techniques; I carried those books everywhere!

I would say that I found my self-confidence and my soul when I’m holding a knife and wearing a chef’s uniform. It’s a totally different me when I’m in the kitchen. When I started working in the kitchen, I could see that being a chef was not just about the food that we cook. We are responsible for every aspect of the food that we serve to our guests, be it hygiene, quality or presentation. I find so much satisfaction in my work.

SA: When I was younger, I was always interested in my mom’s cooking—she really loved to cook! She also owned a little shop that served breakfast and I always helped her in the kitchen.

See also: Natsuko Shoji Named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2022 by Asia’s 50 Best

Did you feel that being a woman in the industry made your journey more challenging?

MG: I think we just have to prove that the knowledge we have and the food we make are up to standard. The dishes on the plates are how we tell our stories and that’s how we gain respect.

SA: To me, the biggest challenge was when I was studying. Everything needed to be fast, focused and perfect. You can’t waste any time in the kitchen. When you prepare food, you can’t afford to make mistakes. That’s the thing that made me the person I am today. When I was an apprentice, I was always scolded and reprimanded, sometimes over the simplest things. But those times made me stronger.

MG: When I was in commis, I trained for almost 16 hours a day over two years. I questioned why I had to learn so many things when I was only a commissary chef. Those two years, I spent doing prep and training with my coaches and sous chefs. Even after finishing service for over 40 people, I had to wash the entire kitchen. The only thing that drove me was the fact that I enjoyed being a chef.

See also: Mandarin Grill's New Menu Highlights Elevated Italian Flavours

What is the toughest part of the job that most people aren't aware of? 

MG: We can’t celebrate any holidays with family. It's been almost 14 years, so I’m used to it.

SA: To be honest, I haven’t really felt that way because I get Raya off! But I sacrifice in other ways, like I go home late. I’m a mother of five daughters and my husband is also a chef. With both of us working, our time with the kids has been a huge sacrifice. Luckily my family has been very understanding.

Who has been your biggest support throughout your career?

SA: My husband and all my family members.

MG: My family will always be my pillar of strength. They always give me with their honest opinions. Sometimes it isn’t easy to accept but I had used their criticisms to improve. They taught me how to deal with criticism positively. 

What advice would you give to younger women who aspire to be a chef?

MG: The first few years is definitely not easy. You have to invest a lot of time, working long hours with a low salary. My advice is to persevere and don’t give up. 

SA: This is not an easy career but if you want to thrive in this industry, you have to have a genuine interest and passion in it. A chef is also an artist, an accountant... you have to manage everything.

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