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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life Food -

’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

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