May Chow, Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2017, feels enriched and more fulfilled by her travels
Last December, chef May Chow of Little Bao in Hong Kong and Bangkok was named Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2017. Part of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants program, the title is awarded to the chef who has garnered the most votes from over 300 industry experts in the region.
Known for her Chinese fusion cuisine and burger-style bao (steamed bun), chef May is humbled by the accolade, but knows there’s still a lot to be done. “I feel honored but at the same time, I understand that there’s a low representation of female chefs in Asia. I hope that my experience is something that future female chefs can relate to, and provide hope for,” she says. “The next challenge I set for myself is to be a well-rounded restaurateur offering great opportunities to local chefs while continuing to explore my Chinese heritage through food.”
Last year chef May launched her Second Draft restaurant in Hong Kong, and the second outlet of Little Bao in Bangkok. She ran a masterclass at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, and is about to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong called Happy Paradise. “It’s been work, work, work, but it’s been really meaningful,” she observes. Still, the work didn’t stop her from traveling. She had a great time in South Africa, where she visited a game reserve, joined a safari, hiked the India Venster trail, admired sustainable fashion by local designers, and tasted vintage wines.
“I love contrasting experiences. I rarely stay in the ‘middle’ — I can do a fancy Michelin star dinner and then a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for some good dumplings. I don’t eat for the sake of eating,” May relates. “I am down with backpacking in remote areas of China, but I can also stay in a boutique hotel in San Sebastian in Spain. I crave unique life experiences as they provide me inspiration.”
May Chow’s trip tips
Chef May was born in Canada, lived in Hong Kong and the US, and has been traveling since she was very young. “I love exploring cultures and learning from people. I always keep an open mind and understand that our cultures are different, and can even be contrasting at times.”
Let your passions lead you: “I need to be attracted to the food of the location, and feel a sense of uniqueness. For life-changing trips, I would probably pick a place that is unfamiliar to me, like Mexico. It’s adventurous and there might be food that I might not normally eat.”
Be spontaneous: “Nowadays, I leave a part of my trips to chance. It’s about that surprise of meeting a person who shows you something they love, that no one else knows about or isn’t even popular. That’s rare to come by and you have to leave room for them to happen.”
Bear gifts: “I’m a very light traveler, and I don’t pack well. I usually bring Little Bao stickers and t-shirts, so I can give gifts if I meet cool people. I also bring good XO sauce and Yu Kwen Yick chili sauce if I’m gifting friends.”
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Smile magazine.