Female frontliners of Malaysian hospitality: calling the shots in a man's world
Women chefs are making headlines the world over and more ladies are winning bartending and barista championships than ever before. They are making people sit up and pay attention not only for being women, but because they are excelling in the field. In conjunction with International Women's Day, we spoke with 5 different ladies of 5 different professions to find out what is it like calling all the shots in a man's world.
- Andre Cointreau, CEO of culinary school Le Cordon Bleu discusses food and the culinary arts of today
Chef Siti Arini Darsom, Sous Chef, Grill 582, Best Western Premier
Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, 8, Jalan Tun Sambanthan 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Tel: 03-2272 8888
Chef Arini serves up some of the best steaks in town today, but her talent was one that she never knew she had until she graduated university. Just to pass time, she signed up for a short 6-month culinary course after school that sparked in her a passion for cooking and which eventually landed her the position at Grill 582. Her journey hasn't been easy.
"Many didn't think I could do it," she recalls. "Many chefs didn't want to take me in because I was so petite." That didn't stop her as she went on to represent Malaysia in winning the Best Commis Rotisseur in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs competition in 2005. "I proved them wrong, I proved to people that I can do it," she proudly says. Many things still are tough for her, but "You just got to work smart and ask for help to ease your work," she advises.
In fact, she believes cooking is something that both genders can excel at. "Male chefs may be tougher in the kitchen, but women chefs are more creative. We create more interesting combinations of food," she explains. "Cooking is something that comes naturally to women, so why wouldn't they make great chefs?"
Sainy Chun, President and Founder, Maison Francaise
5, Jalan Changkat Kia Peng 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Tel: 03 - 2144 1474
Sainy Chun was a hotelier in leading European cities like France and Italy for 13 years before setting foot in Kuala Lumpur. Immediately falling in love with the KLCC Towers, she opened up Maison Francaise in 2012 with some savings of her own. She may be the boss but that her job isn't free of challenges.
"My staff sometimes don't take me seriously," she confides. "I am soft-spoken so sometimes they think it's okay to ignore me." To counter that, she has to step up her game by being strict with them.
"People also think my restaurant is funded by a rich husband living abroad. They can't seem to register that I worked very hard for many years and saved up the capital myself."
Say what they will, but Chun is proving all the doubters wrong with her restaurant that sees a steady stream of customers daily. When asked of her secret to success, Chun only has this to say: "Women are better at multi-tasking so I think we're more suited for the job. Attention to detail is very important since many things need to be looked into -- ingredients, chefs, service, quality of food and decor."
Shirmy Chan, Bartender, Omakase + Appreciate
Bangunan Ming Annexe, KL, Malaysia
For Shirmy Chan, every step she took has led her to her bartending job today.
"When I was interning at Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang, what the bartenders did was very interesting and new to me," she recounts. "Bar flairing looked fun and impressive."
She went all out to pursue that interest, eventually landing an opportunity to work with Diageo World Class Malaysia 2010 Champion, Amanda Wan. Through Wan, she was introduced to Shawn Chong and Karl Too, the owners Omakase + Appreciate, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, she is a regular bartender at the speakeasy bar, which was also where she got her formal training to mixing cocktails.
"There are endless possibilities of flavour matching," says Chan. "How to combine various ingredients together to achieve a balanced drink with flavours that will 'dance' on your tongue is my favourite part."
The physical requirements of her job intimidates her sometimes, like having to lift heavy barrels and cartons, but the mixologist prefers to focus on the positive. "There are a couple of advantages in being a female bartender. It’s easier to convince guys to buy more drinks or try something new. Also, our natural ability to multi-task makes the learning process easier."
Chef Kunavathy Ponnampalam, Chocolate Patissiere, Komugi Bakery
Mid Valley Megamall,LG 078, Lower Ground Floor; Tel: 03 - 2282 1994
Led by her childhood love for her favourite dessert, chocolate, Chef Kunavathy decided to take things one step further and specialise solely in the intricate art of making fine chocolates.
"I have always loved chocolate," she gushes at the mention of her creations. "I love pastry too but my passion is with chocolate."
Through sheer hard work and perseverance, she stayed back after her shifts everyday to learn from older, more experienced chefs. "I asked as many questions as I needed and constantly improved my technique with every mistake," she speaks of her early days.
Finally, her dream came true one day when she was assigned head dessert chef at Komugi Bakery.
To her, being a woman has actually worked in her advantage. "You have to be very patient when it comes to chocolate. You need a very sensitive and light touch that only ladies have," she says. "Men bore too fast of the process of making chocolate since the smallest mistake can break your entire creation."
Yip Leong Sum, SCAA Certified Coffee Roaster, Beans Depot
B-G-5 Jalan 7/26, Parklane Commercial Hub, Kelana Jaya, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor; Tel: 03 - 7496 6122
Everyone loves coffee but not everyone turns it into a profitable business run by passion. Having long been a coffee drinker, Yip Leong Sum decided to quit her corporate job and open a shop where coffee lovers everywhere can group not only to enjoy coffee but also learn to brew, taste and compare flavour notes. Beans Depot also sells freshly roasted coffee beans from different regions of the world as well as different coffee brewing equipment for both home and commercial use; it isn't easy juggling such a business.
As a mother and wife, difficulty crops up for Yip when it comes to dividing her time between work and family.
"What I think is important is the passion and desire to be the best one can be, regardless of gender," she says when asked about how she manages her roles. Man or woman, opportunities are equal and it all depends on how well one makes of the situation. "One thing is for sure, there are no limitations as to what a woman can achieve if she has set out her heart for it," asserts Yip.