From a pop-up ‘bao’ concept at a farmer’s market in 2012 to being named Best Female Chef by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, May Chow has made her mark on Hong Kong’s food landscape. The serial entrepreneur is the chef behind Happy Paradise, Second Draft, and Hong Kong favourite Little Bao, all which showcase Chow’s unique take on contemporary Chinese cuisine with neo-Cantonese menus. Compare Retreats caught up with Chow at Taste of Hong Kong and chatted about alternative proteins and the wellness habits that keep her focussed.
You opened your second Little Bao location last year, the new diner in Causeway Bay. How do you make sure that you keep the quality kind of consistent? We’re in it for the long run, so we don’t—we can’t—just get bored and drop off. It’s just about continuing to learn and improve. We’re not satisfied being just as good as yesterday, so we look at things that interest us and what interests the public. We like to keep things interesting. We work with Impossible and Omni Pork. We’re exploring China more—that’s something we’re really targetting this year, to learn more from chefs in China and to understand what resources are available.
There’s been a surge of interest in alternative proteins. Your restaurants, and Chinse cuisine in general, is very meat focussed, but you also work with a lot alternative proteins. What’s your take on the future of food, in regards to sustainability? There are so many things that are meat that don’t taste like meat. I love eating meat, I’m not a vegetarian, but do I need to have meat in this meal that doesn’t really taste like meat at all, just because it’s part of a noodle dish or whatever? I think that can go. I think if we eliminate a lot of these smaller things and replace with these alternative substitutes, that’s also when production goes higher and it becomes a more accessible price-point for the public.
Something like Omnipork is equal to Hong Kong pork prices, so then it’s an easy substitute because it’s not just about the product but also the value. If people are spending the same, they don’t feel the difference. When I’ve told people about it, like my mom or her generation, they’re very receptive to it—they’re like, “Oh, send me some, I would love to make dumplings with it at home.” Small changes like that already make a huge difference.
Do you have a regular wellness routine? I was always that person who was like, ‘Next year I’ll be more sporty,’ or ‘Next year I’ll do more’, but this year I’ve realised, I’m never going to have more time. So now I prioritise making time slots for exercise instead of being like, ‘I’m at Taste of Hong Kong, I can’t exercise today.’ It’s like, no, I can schedule around it. My partner is training for triathlons, so I’ve been doing a lot of running—I’ve just gone to the tipping point from dreading running to looking forward to going for a run. It’s just gone from horrible to fun, so I’m very excited about it. It took me two years, but now it feels so good.
What are some of your favourite runs? I travel a lot, so everywhere I’ve been I try to do a run. I ran in Venice, Italy, and Montpellier in the South of France, and Brussels, Belgium—it’s almost like I’m collecting these travel locations by running them. It’s also a quick way to see the whole city really quickly.
What do you do on a daily basis to keep you focused and productive? I reflect on my future plans on a very regular basis. Last year I was all over the place: I had a lot of opportunities coming my way, which is a good problem to have, but it then becomes more about saying ‘no’ and knowing when to say it. Last year I was just like, “Yes, I’ll do this, I’ll do that.” I was exhausted and drained. So this year, I re-evaluate what I am doing on a very consistent daily and weekly basis to make sure I have time for what I’m doing.
What’s coming up for you in the coming months? We’re not opening anything soon: we’re focused on the creative side of things. So this year for Happy Paradise, we’re going to be collaborating with a lot of traditional and well-established Chinese restaurants, doing more four-hand dishes and collaborations. I’m doing new Chinese, but I want to also be learning from classic and be inspired by both. So for our first pop-up, we’re going to do a four-hands dinner really soon with Xinrongji a hot, new, one-Michelin-star Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong—we’re super excited to work with them too.
Follow May’s culinary adventure on Instagram @littlebaomay