Episode 56: Badass Female Chefs in Asian Food

Episode 56: Badass Female Chefs in Asian Food

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Chef Baobao of Baoburg in Greenpoint, and Chef Lien Lin of Bricolage in Park Slope joined us to talk about the experiences of being a female Chef in Asian food in NYC - from the path to opening their restaurants, cooking food rich and authentic in their own stories, to the daily challenges and rewards in the kitchen.

Both Chefs come from families with restaurant backgrounds, with moms and grandmas that have inspired them to cook. Simply put, food is in their DNA. At both Baoburg and Bricolage, Baobao and Lien create dishes inspired by their upbringing and experiences. Ultimately, it’s the food they want to share.

The food that I grew up with was a hybrid of Chinese and Vietnamese. Where do you go from there? So, am I just not authentic? No, that’s authentically me as well.
— Lien Lin notes that people use the terms “authentic” and “traditional” interchangeably to describe food, but there is a clear distinction

Both Chefs have also come from formal French culinary training, but made the decision to focus on Asian food at their restaurants. They have unforgettable and happy food memories of sharing a table with family and friends, and wanted to bring that joy, and their family recipes to the masses.

Once I graduated, I realized I wanted to cook food I was familiar with, and the food I grew up with, and part of my culture. I’ve already lost the language, I really didn’t want to lose the culture. Being able to cook the food I grew up with keeps me close to that.
— Lien Lin on why she switched from wanting to cook French to Asian food after culinary school

We dive into the challenges of being a Chef. Sometimes the restaurant takes priority over family dinner, as Lien says, “you have everything set, but so and so didn’t show, or so and so called out, you’re like ok, well I gotta go.” There’s also the long hours and physical labor in a hectic kitchen, as Baobao notes that her “body feels the consequences”. You can’t forget to take care of yourself.

Being a female in a male dominated field makes the job even tougher to navigate. Across the industry, there’s more men in the kitchen than women just in sheer numbers. Lien notes that in her experience of being a female boss, she feels the pressure of having to be really careful about how she addresses her male employees due to their beliefs in gender roles, cultural boundaries that may cause them to have difficulty taking direction from her.

You have to understand I have to say it differently because I’m a female. You can come at them like this, because you’re a male and they’ll take it from you.
— Lien Lin on explaining the double standards in the kitchen with male employees to her husband, Lien’s business partner at Bricolage

Baobao outlines her experience after graduation working in a large French kitchen, where men outnumbered women 10 to 1.

You’re lucky to be hired here, normally we don’t hire females in this position.
— The hard truth Baobao heard from a male coworker

Now Baobao is in the lead at Baoburg and does it differently. She hires women in her kitchen and doesn’t discriminate in her training, teaching new female recruits to handle heavy equipment like woks.

What can we do to change the status quo? Lien says, “we can’t change the terrain but we can change how we navigate it”, she also talked about mentoring, how the #metoo movement has given a voice to women, and how we need to educate girls at school to feel empowered at a young age.

Sexual harassment is real and it happens in the kitchen. I encourage women, don’t be afraid to speak up, don’t take it.
— Baobao’s advice to women joining the workforce to not forget that they have a voice

It’s not easy, it’s not glamorous, and they’ve been put in uncomfortable situations, but nothing stopped them. I am deeply thankful to these badass Chefs for sharing their inspirational stories of hard work and perseverance to build the restaurant that is wholly authentic to them. For more of Chef Baobao and Lien (as well as a few more familiar faces to the pod), check out the short documentary series Yum Chat.

Have comments about the show or an idea of a topic or person we should speak with? Drop us a line at feastmeetswest@heritageradionetwork.org.

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