Stepping up to the Plate

People — By on November 17, 2015 3:06 PM
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Vicky Lau Wan-ki describes her journey from graphic designer to award winning chef
By Cindy Gu

Standing behind the counter of the open kitchen, Vicky Lau Wan-ki rolls up the sleeves of her white snap-front chef’s coat, and inspects the dishes for the night’s dinner menu at Tate Dining Room and Bar . The chef-proprietor has arrived at the restaurant straight from two previous meetings but shows no sign of fatigue.

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Lau’s work rate and achievements have been impressive since opening Tate in 2012. Just six months after its opening, the restaurant was listed in the Michelin Guide to Hong Kong , making Lau the first female chef in the city to own a one-star Michelin restaurant. At the beginning of 2015, she won the annual accolade of Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef, bringing the 35-year-old rising culinary star more fame, and more diners.

It may come as a surprise that Lau never set out to be a chef, let alone a restauranteur. Her background was in design and she has a degree in graphic communications from New York University. After graduating she worked as an art director in New York for a few years, then returned to Hong Kong and started her own design firm. But after a while, she felt the work could not fulfill her.

“I was designing, but I felt something was missing,” Lau says. She needed a break, and some inspiration. A friend suggested she try cooking, so she decided to go back to school and explore a different aspect of design.

That is how Lau found herself embarking on a journey from graphic design to creating works with food by way of a recreational excursion at the prestigious culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok. She initially intended to take a three-month course with her friends, but ended up so engrossed in the world of cuisine that she decided to attain the Grand Diplôme in both patisserie and cuisine.

Enrolling on the Le Cordon Bleu programme does not require previous cooking experience but getting the diploma is no piece of cake. Lau says she found patisserie the hardest.

“Pastry can be a disaster,” she recalls. “If you didn’t set the time and heat of the oven right, or you miss one simple step, it can just go really wrong. I’ve seen people who just cannot make it.”

To pass the test, students are given a dish to prepare for the final exam, and are graded on criteria such as technique, organisation, taste and presentation. Lau’s skills and talents got her through the exam with the highest grade in the history of Le Cordon Bleu.

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