Growing up in America with immigrant parents from China and Hong Kong, Vivian Pei’s foray into F&B officially started when she started working in her family restaurant at the age of 14. Decades later, with an MBA from London Business School and several years of experience in the corporate world under her belt, she shifted course and started catering and giving cooking lessons out of her flat.
She hasn’t looked back since. From working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and Burgundy to authoring a cookbook, ‘Awakening The Appetite’, for cancer patients and caregivers in Singapore, Pei knows the ins and outs of the industry. Now, the F&B consultant, writer and culinary instructor calls Singapore home, where she’s a Senior Academy Chair of World’s 50 Best Bars and VP of the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association.
Chope speaks to Pei on what Singapore’s F&B community can start doing to set the table for equality for women in the industry.
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?
I suspect the ones I’ve encountered are similar to many. Over the years I have been told I wasn’t strong enough and the work was too difficult. I got hit on by customers and managers alike, I was told to smile, and so on.
How has the scene evolved over the years since then? Have the voices of women been amplified?
I do think Singapore is ahead of many other markets in this regard in that those women who are in F&B generally get treated fairly equally.
I started out on the periphery of F&B at the beginning of my journey here. I started doing more consulting and headed a culinary school, helped train floor staff, opened restaurants, consulted on menus, and so on. I think the number of women in the kitchen has increased — although the top roles are still held primarily by men.
I think that as long as things like maternity pay and maternity leave are not discussed, this will be an issue. Singapore does have an advantage in that childcare is affordable and widely available. There has been more attention paid to women in the industry in recent years, but there needs to be more.
The F&B industry needs to set the table for equality. What are the small steps that can be taken, that can then move on to a bigger movement?
- Seeking out women to hire. I am against hiring someone just to hit a quota. The person still must be qualified, but there can be a call to action for women.
- Providing mentorship to women in the industry would allow them to tap into someone else’s experience and avoid pitfalls.
- Changing the local mindset. F&B is a viable career — there are many opportunities for growth and progression. There needs to be more educational and training programmes for this track, and change in policy from the government to support this initiative.
What is one piece of advice that you’d give to a fellow woman who wants to have a successful career in F&B?
Work hard, don’t take no for an answer, and learn continuously. I think it still holds true that a woman has to be smarter and work more to get the same position. Learn to network and build your personal brand wisely. Love what you do because F&B in general will not make you rich!
Lastly, who’s a woman in the scene to watch now and why?
The dynamic duo that are Jessica Hutchinson and Juan Yi Jun of No Sleep Club. They have a wonderful place and have nailed the hospitality formula.
Gan Guoyi, co-founder and owner of the Jigger & Pony Group not only runs several businesses very well, but also manages to help the bar community in so many ways!