Cover We speak to some of the most inspiring Hong Kong F&B mums about their career and the importance of achieving work-life balance (Photo: Chef Chan and her daughter Tracy Wong; courtesy of Chilli Fagara)

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we caught up with some of Hong Kong’s top F&B female professionals to discuss the importance of finding a balance between work and family, what they love most about their career, and their favourite childhood food memories

Being a working mum is difficult in any profession. But the F&B industry’s working weekends and long working hours can make it particularly challenging for those with small children.

In honour of Mother’s Day, we asked some inspiring women in Hong Kong’s dining scene to share their secrets to balancing work and family life, their favourite childhood food memories, along with some of their best quotes about motherhood.  

Read more: Mothers of Asia: Meet 4 Powerful Women Dedicated to Protecting Children

Esther Sham, chef-owner of Maison ES

"Unlike many other F&B mums, I'm lucky to have a flexible working schedule because I’m only focusing on managing one restaurant. I batch things in advance and allow myself to be a full-time mum and a part-time restauranteur. I don’t feel pressured at all when it comes to striking a balance between work and family, as I set realistic expectations of what I can and cannot do.

With a family to take good care of, I no longer spend long hours at the restaurant and in the kitchen like I used to do. But now I can easily order ingredients and dishes from the restaurant, bringing my passion for cooking to home and sharing delicious eats with family."

The favourite recipe I learned from my mother...

Melting Onion Duck! It’s one of my signature dishes created for Maison ES.

My favourite food memories with my mother...

I loved the Shanghainese wontons with bok choy and pork made by mum. She used to prepare dozens of wontons and keep them in the freezer for us, so we could always have something delicious to eat at home whenever we were hungry. Still to this day, she enjoys making wontons and my kids love them. All we have to do is to call her and say we are running low on stock...then the food would be sent our way!

My mum loves egg waffles as much as I do. We used to buy one to share when I was young, and that’s what I have been doing with my boys too.

How I spend holidays with my family...

Food is my love language. Preparing food that my family enjoys the most is my way of saying how much I love them. We usually go boating once every weekend and we also enjoy having barbecues and spending time outdoors.  

Yenn Wong, founder of JIA Group

"Carving out time for family is never easy as running a restaurant group eats up a lot of my own time. But life is all about balance. I organise my schedule very well, and given my working hours are quite flexible, I’m able to make sure I have enough family time to spend outside of my business—no matter how busy I am.

The most challenging part of running a restaurant business would definitely be people management. It’s about motivating your team and believing in your goals, as well as ensuring customers’ expectations are met.

Being a restauranteur is very demanding and takes total commitment, however, there’s nothing quite like the reward of seeing the happy faces of diners enjoying food at our restaurants!"

The favourite recipe I learned from my mother...

Braised chicken wings with potatoes. It's very easy to make and has been a childhood dish since I was young, and now my kids love it too.

My favourite food memories with my mother...

My mother is a great cook and can whip up a dinner for 10 people in two hours! I spent quite a lot of my childhood days helping my mum in the kitchen and learning the basics.

My favourite childhood dishes...

My favourite dish was my mum's Hakka pork belly with black fungus, something that she would always make for special occasions. I also loved to eat soon kueh—steamed radish dumplings with sweet dark soy sauce. When I was a kid living in Singapore, there would be food trucks selling homemade soon keuh on the streets...I miss it so much.

How I spend holidays with my family...

Being born into a family of food lovers, we are always eating. Whether it is a home-cooked feast, a meal out at our restaurants, or even picnics and camping experiences, there’s not a day goes by without having good food together.

Our weekends are mostly spent eating, enjoying the outdoors with the kids and helping them with homework. Of course, we’re hoping to travel abroad sometime in the near future! 

Read more: International Women’s Day 2022: Hong Kong’s Top Female Chefs Share Their Secrets to Success

Chan Kai Ying, head chef of Chilli Fagara and her daughter Tracy Wong

“Working closely with the same person every day can be challenging, in particular if my mother and I have different opinions on a topic!” says Tracy Wong, daughter of Chan Kai Ying, head chef of Chilli Fagara.

“But over the years, we have learnt that different points of view actually make us more open-minded—even more creative. Working with my mother has brought us closer together. Every day, we learn, eat, cook, explore, try and fail together; we encourage each other and find solutions as a team and push boundaries. She inspires me with her everlasting energy, unlimited culinary knowledge and devotion, mastering the art of Sichuan cuisine and taking it to a whole new level.”

The favourite recipe I learned from my mother...

Tracy: The stir-fried egg was one of the first dishes my mother taught me how to cook when I was still a little girl. Until now, it’s my favourite comfort food that I enjoy the most when it’s freshly prepared by my mum. It’s also one of the first recipes passed down to her from her father in Chong Qing and has ever since been her favourite dish, too!

Chef Chan: Although she is grown up now, I love cooking Tracy’s favourite meals the most. One such dish is silky scrambled eggs, stir-fried with tangy-sweet garlic and house-made chilli sauce, and served with sweet, white buns. The nostalgia this simple yet comforting dish evokes is so meaningful to me that it features on the menu at Chilli Fagara as one of our signature dishes.

My favourite food memories with my mother...

Tracy: Coming from a family of restaurateurs in Chong Qing, preparing classic Sichuan dishes, like chilli-infused dumplings, has always been an essential part of our Chinese culture, as you can find them at almost every homemade family meal.

When I was a child, I would wrap and cook them with my mother and grandmother at home—this is one of my fondest childhood memories with them. As a successful chef preparing upscale Sichuan cuisine for her whole life, she was the one who taught me how to prepare and fold the thin wrappers and fill them with our favourite ingredients. Our signature chilli dumplings truly represent the taste and feeling of home for us. 

How I spend holidays with my family...

Chef Chan: My daughter Tracy and I love going to the wet market together to select the freshest seasonal ingredients and source new flavour inspirations. And when we’re not in the restaurant, we play mahjong at home or create new recipes together over a good bottle of wine—this is how we balance restaurant business and family life.

Tracy: We also love travelling together, be it to Canada to visit family and friends or back to Chong Qing to visit our relatives and trusted suppliers, or to look for new suppliers with the best and most authentic high-quality products which we can then bring to Chilli Fagara to offer our diners an elevated Sichuan dining experience. 

Read more: Inspirational Quotes on What It’s Like to Work With Mum

Laura Prabowo, co-founder and managing director of Penicillin and Dead&

"Maintaining a bar business is never easy as it involves dealing with late-night working hours. But because I started working at a very young age, I was required to handle my career while taking good care of my siblings, so I’m always aware of the importance of work-life balance and the right way to achieve it.

My daily morning routine begins with getting my son ready and sending him to school at 6am, followed by a short jogging session with my husband to freshen up before heading to work. Whenever I have free time, I will accompany my son—it’s very important for me to strengthen the bond with him as he grows!

Female F&B professionals in Hong Kong deserve to be recognised and celebrated. I didn’t let myself be negatively influenced by people who doubt my worth, I will just keep working hard and pushing the limits. I feel proud and satisfied as long as my team is happy and the business is doing great."

The favourite recipe I learned from my mother...

Nasi goreng ikan asin! It’s an Indonesian recipe and a very delicious variation of fried rice that features salted fish.

My favourite food memories with my mother...

For me and my sisters, our best childhood dishes have to be KFC as we only can get them once in 3 months or even more. Growing up with a single parent like my mother who spends almost her entire time working, enjoying meals at KFC and spending time together is a blessing.

How I spend holidays with my family...

Food is a very important element in our family time. We usually spend weekends mostly at home and my husband [Agung Prabowo] will cook for us—he’s the legend at the bar but his food is amazing! My son and I love every dish he prepared for us and sometimes we enjoy dining out too.

My son also loves hiking and hanging around the beach, and that’s mostly what we do on weekends. 

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