Hong Kong born and bred Chef ArChan Chan decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts and moved to Australia in 2008. While studying culinary management at William Angliss Institute in Melbourne, she staged at several top restaurants including Attica, Acme, Automata, Quay and Six Penny.
She later joined the renowned McConnell Group and worked with chef-owner Andrew McConnell for seven years. She was ultimately appointed as head chef at the group’s Ricky & Pinky, a restaurant named after the iconic Hong Kong tattoo parlour. Having spent a decade in Australia, ArChan decided to take a short break to refocus. She spent some time working in a friend’s modern Vietnamese restaurant, Anchovy, as well as continued learning and expanding her knowledge as a sommelier. After Melbourne, she had a stint in Singapore. ArChan finally returned home to Hong Kong, where she took over the reins of Ho Lee Fook, SoHo’s iconic contemporary Chinese restaurant, in mid 2020.
What would you say are your biggest strengths as a female chef in the male-dominated industry?
Most males may feel they cannot show weakness to others, so they often have a stronger ego. In opposition to that, it is easier for me because I can be open to feedback. It is essential to listen to the perspective of others, and you should not take feedback too personally. Throughout my career, I have learned that it is crucial to ask for help and to express when you are not okay; it is not a sign of weakness. This is an essential trait in this fast-paced, demanding industry, and it might be easier for females than males.
What are some of the most important lessons you learnt from your mentors, and how do you use those skills in your current role?
When I started, I was a cook in a fine dining restaurant, and I, along with many other line cooks, felt like I always needed to catch up on my prep. My head chef at the time would always prep his work quickly and then go around and help all the other sections. One of my early goals was to be the person in the kitchen who would be able to help those in need. I want to be the kind of leader and chef that others respect.
Another lesson I learned early on was that things should never be taken personally in a kitchen. There can be a lot of pressure in the kitchen, temperatures can rise, and often, the words used can be very unfriendly. But often, if you listen closely, the frustration is never directed at a person. It is often directed at the situation, and to survive in the kitchen, you need to know when you can just let something go.
What’s the most fulfilling part about your job as a chef?
Recently I have had the pleasure of being interviewed by a Chinese chef from Sweden. He dined with us at Ho Lee Fook and shared how much he loved our Double-Steamed Broth. He shared that it brought back memories from home, tasting exactly like the soup his grandma would cook for him. Being able to bring joy like this to guests, whether creating new memories or a sense of nostalgia for a time in their life they love, is really fulfilling for me.
How do you continue to elevate your culinary skills after all these years?
Learning never stops. I think this statement is very true – the more you know, the more you know how little you actually know. There is so much to learn about Cantonese cuisine, so I constantly challenge myself, stay curious and keep asking questions. Besides remaining curious, I love to read, dine out and have meaningful conversations with people in the industry. You must be involved in the world you love to learn more and keep growing. Excellence and knowledge are always active pursuits.
What are some of your biggest dreams as a chef?
I was recently awarded Local Champion by an esteemed local magazine, and it was an honour to receive it. Hong Kong is home and, of course, a place that is close to my heart and the work I’m doing at Ho Lee Fook is a nod to this fantastic, dynamic city. I am so grateful to be acknowledged in this way. I hope to be a voice for our local heroes – from farmers and producers all the way through to the new generation of chefs. I am dedicating myself to Cantonese cuisine and want to continuously research, study and carry on the legacy proudly. A shoutout to all the young adults working in the kitchen and following their dreams, especially the females; being a chef is a lifetime commitment. You are signing on for a life partner, so you must choose something you are passionate about.
If you have a choice to do something else, what would it be?
I think I would be a psychologist or social worker. I am fortunate enough to have a very positive mindset, and I want to help people through tough times. In some ways, I have an almost endless positive energy, and I always look at things from a different perspective. I love to challenge people to think differently with me and ask them, why not