For a very long time, it was rare to find a restaurant kitchen run or owned by a woman. Often seen as a tough environment where a big part of earning your stripes in the kitchen is proving that you can withstand the physically demanding work, unsociable hours, and possibly even a macho culture filled with many gender stereotypes, the restaurant industry has long been considered as a male-dominated field that hasn’t had many women in leadership roles.
But today’s culinary world is newer and braver. Over the years, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes demanding more diversity and equity in the restaurant industry, with more and more female talents being acknowledged for their hard work and culinary creativity.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to some of Hong Kong's most influential female chefs who have been making waves and are set to make bigger impacts on the culinary scene. Read on to know more about their own experiences as women in the kitchen, their advice to the next generation of female chefs, as well as inspiring thoughts they shared about the future of the local F&B industry.
1. Vicky Lau, Tate Dining Room
Known for her attention to detail and creative vision as exemplified in the haute cuisine offered at her Michelin-starred restaurant, Tate Dining Room, Vicky Lau has a knack for turning innovative French-Chinese delicacies into edible works of art. She was awarded as Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2015 and was named Taler Asia’s Most Influential – The Tastemaker’s list honouree in 2021.
It’s true that there are not many female chefs in Hong Kong. This could be due to the fact that chefs aren't valued for their craft, or because women are discouraged to pursue this career because of the physical conditions of working in a professional kitchen.
Over the last few years, though, I have seen some noticeable changes in the local restaurant scene. There are more awards celebrate the excellence of the F&B sector and recognise chefs’ hard work, and there’s also been an increase in the number of female chefs working in Chinese kitchens that are traditionally thought to be more labour-intensive.
From accepting criticism to collaborating with the team and adapting to the changes amidst the pandemic, the F&B industry is no doubt a challenging industry to be in. For me, remaining true to my original intent is important. And of course, I need to take good care of the team, give trust, be brave enough to change and always be aware of the world around us.
Her motto and career tips...
It is certainly not harder to break through as a woman in the F&B industry. It is just a matter of turning ideas into action, challenging what we traditionally think of the role of a woman. Influences truly come from anywhere if you seek with an open mind, pay attention to what is going on around you so that you can catch that moment and think about them.
Sustainability should now be the priority in the design and operation of restaurants. A sustainable restaurant business goes from sourcing ingredients and extends to everything we see and touch inside the restaurant.
Speaking of the role of female chefs in the F&B industry, I think woman is the full circle with the power to create, nurture and transform. The industry should have a good mix of male and female talents; it’s like yin and yang and it’s only when we can learn to support each other as one to work towards a better future.