The founder and chef behind contemporary French restaurant Maison ES and private kitchen Ta Pantry in Hong Kong, Esther Sham is a contemporary art graduate who modelled professionally before embarking on an apprenticeship at the three Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong. After starting her own private kitchen, Ta Pantry, in 2008, she launched Maison Es, her first full-fledged restaurant located in Wan Chai in 2015.
This International Women’s Day, we check in with the entrepreneur on her journey as a woman in the industry, and the triumphs she’s faced along the way.
What would you say has been the most defining moment in your career?
When I could use my restaurant to host charity events, and when my story could give people hope. That’s the whole reason I got into this tough business.
Women have long fought for a rightful place at the top of the food chain, and for spaces that have been traditionally perceived as suited for men. What are some obstacles you face when it comes to gender bias and stereotypes?
It’s not about fighting against the bias, it’s about fighting against our own esteem. Why get bothered by what others say if we know what we’re doing? Shouldn’t we work hard at everything we do anyway? Why get distracted by what people say when what we should be focused on are our cooking skills and food? A male chef needs to work very hard to get to the top too.
How do you think Hong Kong’s F&B industry has evolved in terms of female representation? Have the voices of women been amplified?
In fact, I received a lot of opportunities because I’m female. I caught a lot of media attention, especially with my previous background as a model. Since people in general are more conscious of gender equality, female chefs are given more attention more easily. I would see this as an advantage — but still, you have to have the quality and persistence to sustain this. Otherwise, it’d just be five minutes of fame.
The F&B industry needs to set the table for equality. How can it start doing so in Hong Kong?
Perhaps by encouraging more females to be positive and proactive instead of feeling self-pity.
In your opinion, are there still barriers of entry for women in F&B?
Not really, as long as the person has skills and physical endurance.
What is one piece of advice that you’d give to a fellow woman who wants to have a successful career in F&B?
Don’t let gender hold you back. If that’s how you see yourself, that’d be how others see you too.
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