Take a bao
Just a few years ago May Chow was a party girl. Then came Little Bao, a Bangkok offshoot and now a Tai Hang gastropub. The savvy chef tells Charmaine Mok how Second Draft has given her a second wind
’m Chinese, and this would be my last meal if I had a choice. It’s like a Shanghainese bibimbap.” We’re in the home of chef May Chow, owner of Little Bao, Soho’s Americanchinese “diner,” and she’s whipped up an extravagant late lunch of vegetable rice topped with a spectrum of pickles, fresh okra and a rib-eye steak drizzled with gingerscallion oil. For May, the most important ingredient goes on last: a quivering Japanese egg yolk as golden as the setting sun.
The dish is utterly beautiful—the pickled shredded cabbage with its shocking magenta hue, the marbled jade and purple of the okra, the delicious darkened char of the beef rubbed with Chinkiang vinegar and sweet kecap manis—but it’s more than just food. It’s a dish that tells the story of who May is as a chef, and of the effortless, buoyant way she mixes and matches ingredients, combining Western and Asian techniques with serious aplomb.
The 32-year-old has evolved at a rapid pace since opening her first restaurant three years ago. She has represented Hong Kong at leading food festivals, including Omnivore in Paris and Shanghai, the prestigious Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in Australia and, just this summer, the Bordeaux Wine Festival. In July, Little Bao officially expanded beyond the Fragrant Harbour with its first franchised branch in Bangkok’s Thonglor district—a huge coup for a chef who hadn’t known whether her restaurant would last, let alone one who in her twenties hadn’t seen a life for herself beyond partying six days a week.
“It was a very special moment with Little Bao, to create something that was so popular. But for almost two years I was scared to expand,” says May. “I didn’t know if we were still relevant or if we were just a trend.” The accolades had kept coming, but then a problem presented itself: May was being pigeonholed. “I’m a Gemini and I like doing a lot of different things. But people would look at me and see only Little Bao, that I only made ‘Asian burgers.’”
Instagram wasn’t helping either. Searches for the restaurant would turn up page after page of its iconic green tea ice cream bao, rather than the dishes May had taken considerably more time and effort to conceive. “One of my biggest fears was to think that my next shop would be an ice cream bao parlour in a shopping centre.”
But May has exorcised that fear this summer by partnering with Chris Wong and James Ling of The Ale Project and Rohit Dugar of Young Master Ales to open Second Draft, a neighbourhood “Chinese gastropub” in Tai Hang. Occupying the spacious ground floor of a new luxury development, the