13 June, 2024
May Chow main image
May Chow main image

Chef May Chow Gets Candid About Her Personal Experiences And LGBTQ+ Advocacy

13 June, 2024
May Chow main image

In honour of Pride Month, Chef May Chow opens up about her personal life and groundbreaking advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community in this candid interview.

As Pride Month unfolds, Hong Kong comes alive with vibrant events and celebrations. Yet, beyond these festivities, this month serves as a crucial reminder to reflect on the importance of inclusivity. In honour of Pride Month, we had the privilege of sitting down with the celebrated Chef May Chow, the creative force behind Little Bao and Happy Paradise. Recognised as Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2017, May Chow has become a prominent figure in the F&B industry and a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ representation.

In our candid conversation, Chef May shares her remarkable career journey and ongoing efforts to foster inclusivity within the culinary world. She opens up about her personal life, highlighting the significance of building a supportive community. Shedding light on the evolving landscape of the F&B industry, join us as Chef May Chow shares her story and her vision for a more inclusive future.

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May Chow Little Bao

Can you share some of the key milestones in your career that have helped establish your credibility in the F&B industry?

I believe it was 2016, three years after I opened Little Bao, when we opened our second restaurant, Second Draft, a gastropub. A little after that, I also won the Asia’s Best Female Chef award.

May Chow LGBTQ+ initiatives

As you continue on your path, what current projects or initiatives are you most excited about, both in your culinary work and in advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusivity?

Regarding upcoming projects, I’m still in the discovery phase. We’re not in a rush to open new locations, as it’s currently a very challenging time. We’re exploring opportunities across the Asia Pacific region, as well as considering potential projects in Hong Kong.

On the LGBTQ+ side, my role is to act as an advocate. My wife and I choose to live a very open lifestyle. We participate in panel discussions, share our experiences, and represent ourselves on various platforms. We also support LGBTQ+ events whenever possible. Little Bao has always been committed to this cause, and each year we contribute to around six to ten panel discussions and activations that align with our beliefs.

Beyond LGBTQ+ advocacy, women empowerment, diversity, and inclusion are also very special to our hearts. We’re passionate about these causes and actively support them through various initiatives and platforms.

May Chow Little Bao team

How do you incorporate LGBTQ+ inclusivity into your restaurants and work environment?

I think because I’m the founder and we’re still a very small team, we operate not by policy but by action. When we hire and consider opportunities for our team, we focus on inclusivity and diversity. We have a significant presence of female leadership and actively support our LGBTQ+ members, including those from the trans community. It’s easy for us to act on these values because we’re a small team and can lead by example.

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May Chow personal life Jodie Chan

In terms of your personal life, how do you and Jodie maintain a healthy and supportive relationship despite the demands of your busy schedules?

As an entrepreneur and chef, this marks my 11th year since opening Little Bao. I believe I am now in phase two of my journey, where I have redefined my goals. One of these goals is to achieve a high-quality personal life alongside a high-quality work life, and I have a strong drive for both.

I found an amazing wife, whom I married, and we have been planning to start a family for the past two years. We’ve been navigating the process of starting a family in Hong Kong. During this time, I also underwent a complete fitness transformation. Now, I aim to inspire those around me not only to succeed at work but also to find fulfilment in life.

Reflecting on my growth, both personally and professionally, I realise that while we often celebrate professional achievements, my true source of happiness has been my partner. Securing our relationship over the past few years has been my greatest accomplishment (even more so than opening three restaurants). Although Jodi is not literally worth three restaurants, hypothetically speaking, my relationship with her has been my biggest achievement during those years. While these aspects of my life are more private, I love sharing them with the people around me.

On that note, could you speak about any unique challenges or successes you’ve had as a public LGBTQ+ couple, especially within the F&B world?

I think we’re very lucky because Hong Kong is quite liberal, and we’ve surrounded ourselves with many allies who provide constant love and support. This supportive ecosystem is something I have deliberately built and nurtured, both as a team and as a couple, ensuring that we feel very loved.

It’s important to understand that in Hong Kong, there are both supporters and non-supporters of our community. It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about choosing to align with those who support us. I consciously lean towards working with allies and supporting companies that share our values. When deciding to collaborate with a company or individual, I thoroughly evaluate their beliefs and stance on issues like female empowerment. If their motives are purely monetary and don’t align with our values, I choose not to partner with them.

Making these choices is crucial, and we have to make them every day. It’s essential to discuss and acknowledge the importance of these decisions.

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May Chow Richard Ekkabus allies

Building on that, what advice would you give to LGBTQ+ individuals pursuing demanding careers, particularly in terms of ensuring a supportive environment?

It’s really important to ask the right questions, and this applies even to being a chef. When we were young, we were often naive enough to believe that if we wanted to be the best chef in the world, we should go work for a Michelin-starred chef. But what if there was sexual harassment? What if it wasn’t a nurturing environment for women? What if it didn’t support LGBT members? These are significant considerations.

Now, I would ask different questions: Is it a healthy environment to work in? Does it openly support LGBT communities? Am I allowed to be my true self in my work environment? Am I allowed to perform to my fullest potential? It’s crucial to ask these honest questions and observe before entering a workplace or career path.

The beautiful thing now is that we have choices. There are companies that support these values, and there are still companies that don’t. It’s important to have the awareness to recognise this and to understand that, as talented individuals, we have the power to choose where we want to work, who we want to represent, and who we want to support. This enlightenment and awareness are essential.

May Chow Little Bao future

How do you see the future of the F&B industry evolving in terms of inclusivity and representation, and what role do you hope to play in that transformation?

I think it’s interesting because F&B is a business, and it’s a very challenging one, especially since it’s not easy to be profitable right now. For me, personally, the role of F&B is about human connection. When I think about my guests and how we built Little Bao and Happy Paradise, it’s not about monetary value. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

If LGBT issues or other community matters are important to your team, they should be important to you because you’re striving to make your team happy. If your team is happy, your guests are happy, and that makes for good business. While I can’t represent the entire F&B industry, there are definitely individuals who are very open-minded and progressive. I love highlighting allies like Richard Ekkebus, Matt and Lindsey from Yardbird, and Simon Wilson. Celebrating the positivity within the smaller units of F&B is really important.

To stay up-to-date on Chef May Chow’s projects, follow Little Bao on Instagram

Main image, image 1 and 3 courtesy of Shanti Studios, images 2, 5 and 6 courtesy of Little Bao via Instagram, image 4 courtesy of May Chow & Jodie Chan via Instagram, image 7 courtesy of Little Bao.

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