In a country where steamed bao buns are available in abundance, May Chow has created a simple recipe that has brought her extraordinary success. Inspired by Momofuku founder David Chang, she adapted the traditional Chinese bao into a burger shape – a bold move in Hong Kong, where messing with an original recipe could have garnered much criticism. Instead she was met with hundreds of people lining up to get their hands on her bao burgers, and so a local phenomenon was born.
Toronto-born Chow grew up in the US and studied at Boston University, so American culture has had a big influence on her cooking, along with her Chinese heritage. She looks at everything from a double perspective, adding American twists to her menu such as the “Sweet Ending” ice cream bao and a cocktail list featuring various US classics.
After several sell-out pop-ups at farmers’ markets in Hong Kong, Chow opened the first 20-seater Little Bao in SoHo in 2013, with a second branch launching in Bangkok in 2016 in the same month as her Second Draft gastropub in Tai Hang, Hong Kong. With both her Little Bao branches permanently full, Chow now has her sights set on more overseas restaurants, with potential options including Melbourne, London and Tokyo.
Little Bao’s success might not have been possible without the likes of Chang and other Asian-American chefs, because 15 years ago the Chinese in Hong Kong were cooking Italian or French cuisine, according to Chow. “If it wasn’t caviar, it was looked down upon,” she adds. Chow also cites “X-Treme” chef Alvin Leung for enabling local cooks to make Chinese food in a fine-dining environment and it was at his HK restaurant, Bo Innovation, that she cut her culinary teeth.
Though she credits Leung, Chang and Yardbird’s Matt Abergel as her inspirations and mentors, Chow’s success is very much down to her own curiosity and rebellious spirit. The extent of her professional experience before Little Bao was just four years but she invested ample time in traveling and eating around the world in search of her own unique voice and style.
Now recognised as one of Asia’s most dynamic chefs, Chow is using her newfound platform to campaign for LGBT issues and to help China catch up with the western world in providing opportunities for young female chefs. Her humility and approachability have made her the perfect icon for women across Asia and she will no doubt use her new position as Asia’s Best Female Chef to inspire and drive positive change.
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