How to Switch Careers and Become a Michelin Star Chef
We met with Vicky Lau, founder of the Michelin star awarded Tate Dining Room & Bar and 2015 Best Female Chef in Asia, while she was in Manila to help UNICEF raise funds for four National Centers for Children with Disabilities in the Philippines. Joining forces with fellow Best Female Chefs Margarita Forés, Bo Songvisava and Lanshu Chen, the four accomplished chefs created a menu for the UNICEF Children’s Ball, which is inspired by their childhood memories and aspirations. We talked to Vicky about how she found her true passion, what it takes to succeed in the restaurant industry, and the importance of sustainability.
On finding the right medium for her creativity:
“Design and food can be quite similar. The reason why I left the design industry was because I actually got into it for the love of design. It can be hard to make a living. You end up doing ads for shampoo or selling trivial items, and that’s not why I got into design. I felt that something was missing. That’s why I was trying to explore in what medium I can express myself more and food naturally is a really good medium, because it has all the sensations.
You have the interaction with your guests and also can see their immediate reaction. It’s a lot about culture, so I wanted to get into that, and that’s when I went to culinary school. First, it was just trying things out, just for fun, and then after three months at Cordon Bleu I really enjoyed it so I finished the whole course.
Afterwards I worked at a French restaurant and then I thought I should combine everything I know into one little place–now I can say ignorance is bliss–because back then I didn’t know so much about restaurants and what I was getting into.”
On knowing what it takes to make it:
“It’s just passion, it really is just passion and also teamwork. You cannot do everything yourself, you need a team that has the same thinking as you. That’s why I always hire someone not just because of their skill, but most importantly because of their passion. If you don’t have the skill you can train for it, but if you don’t have passion you cannot nurture that within your staff.
Now we’ve just relocated. Tate on Elgin Street was open for four years. And because the kitchen was so small–the restaurant’s only 900 square feet–we moved to a bigger location, we now have a bigger kitchen and we can rethink the mistakes that we made at the old place to make it better.”
On sustainable success:
“When you first open a restaurant you want to attract attention, so it’s more about the gimmicks. Now, it’s not so much about that. It’s more about the food and the story behind the food. Basically the art, craft and science of the whole thing. And also having a sustainable restaurant.
There are a few things that are a challenge at this new place. For example we have a little drawer in the dining tables to encourage guests to put away their phones and enjoy each other’s company. Instead of table flowers we grow our own from kitchen scraps, like sweet potato leaves, which are beautiful. We don’t need to put fresh cut flowers from Amsterdam on the table to be beautiful. And also, we’ve given up on bottled water, because it’s just silly to ship water from New Zealand, and you don’t know where to put the empty glass bottles afterwards. Instead, we put in a strong filter system, bottle our own water and do the sparkling ourselves as well. The carbon footprint is just too much.”