Interview with Chef Tiffany Lau
by Rohail Ali on Oct 22, 2023
A totally plant-based diet is still considered quite unconventional in Hong Kong. Fittingly, Tiffany Lau is an unconventional chef. In fact, she's not even sure if she wants to claim chef as a title. "I know that being a Michelin or celebrity chef is not the path I want to go down; I claim the title chef because that's something people understand. It's just a name; what really matters is what you can contribute and how you communicate that idea in a dish." This mentality comes through in her work, which consistently shows a clarity of vision, creativity, and thoughtfulness.
"Storytelling is the backbone of my creations. It pushes me to keep learning and exploring what's out there. A plant-based diet is not something new, but there's always something new to learn."
For someone who has already developed a coherent vision of what she is trying to present on a plate, Tiffany's path to a career in the kitchen didn't follow the typical route. She studied economics, law, and worked for an event management firm before realizing she wanted to offer value to people in other ways that were closer to her interests outside of work. Though she regards her educational and employment experience as being essential stages that provided many of the skills needed to launch her entrepreneurial career, she ultimately chose the chef's knife and apron as her primary tools of self-expression.
Tiffany is very open about her personal journey and the impact that cooking has had on her own life. In 2010, after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she was given medication that resulted in severe side effects, including chronic hives. Though she tested a variety of drugs and home remedies, no doctors were able to pinpoint an effective method of treatment. With few options left, she began exploring different diets in an attempt to identify the root cause of her allergy.
It wasn't a quick fix. Tiffany experimented with several diets along the way before landing on one that worked. Among the diets she tried were gluten-free, anti-Histamine, and low-FODMAP (a diet low in fermentable carbs), with mixed results. A plant-based diet was certainly not her first choice. After all, giving up meat can be a daunting prospect to any Hong Konger raised on a steady diet of all sorts of meats and seafood. "Becoming a vegetarian was my last option - I didn't think I could handle a diet of just veggies and fruit." It turned out to be a life-changing decision. Within two years of following a vegetarian and vegan diet, she had recovered from her chronic allergies and identified a brand new path forward.
Story-telling: as necessary in the kitchen as a pot or a knife.
Tiffany recalls her parents' love of cooking as a stand-out childhood memory. She knew that food was an emotionally grounding force in her life, and now that she had her own experience with food acting as medicine, she was inspired to take steps towards discovering how she could share this value with other people who might be struggling with finding solutions to their health issues.
She applied to a vegan culinary school, "Matthew Kenney Cuisine" (now known as "Food Future Institute") in 2017, to expand her knowledge of plant-based nutrition and food preparation methods. After several intensive training courses, she received certification as a plant-based chef and plant-based nutritionist. Though she was still working in event management at the time, she began taking steps to strike out on her own, starting with sharing recipe creations on her Instagram account @soulhookedonfood and launching plant-based pop-up dining events for family and friends.
Following the encouraging reception she received for her initial work in the small but growing plant-based community in Hong Kong, she took the leap into entrepreneurship and launched her food business, Soulistic, in 2019. "Soulistic creates food that is not just plant-based but also features a touch of local flavours. We offer a wide range of food products, food consultation and private dining experiences." She currently offers several vegan and plant-based products on her website, including vegan mooncakes, kimchi, superfood fudge, and more.
Story-telling and nutritional value form the foundation for her creative products. She always approaches her recipes by focusing on the background story first. "What does it remind me of? How can I transform it into something inspiring - something that has a story to tell?" Then, she molds this story into a dish that is good for the body and the soul.
Back To The Farm
In an effort to incorporate more sustainability in her cooking, Tiffany has recently begun her farming journey at an outdoor plot in Tai Po. Urban farms like Brooklyn Grange were valuable resources during her culinary training in New York City. She was also fortunate to grow up with parents who were long-time supporters of local produce. She remembers snacking on locally-grown sweet corn with her tea as a child and wants to bring those memories to the surface for her customers as well.
Cooking with locally-grown fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting the best quality and nutritional value from your ingredients, while also lowering the overall environmental cost of long-distance food transport. In a city that imports over 95% of its fresh produce, this is a worthy endeavor. Tiffany has grown a variety of plants on her small plot, including corn, tomatoes, hairy squash, amaranth, morning glory, and sweet potatoes. Soon she'll be plating her own radish so that it will be ready to harvest in January - she plans to use it for her special Chinese New Year radish cake.
"It's important for me to get an understanding of how local produce is grown in Hong Kong. It gives me stories to tell my consumers."
*"The HKU research shows that Hong Kong has one of the highest meat consumptions per capita in the world at 664g/day/capita (equivalent to two pieces of 10-oz steak). Pork and beef consumption are the highest, with average daily consumption four times higher than the UK." https://www.hku.hk/press/news_detail_17940.html
What are Tiffany’s favorite local vegetables?
- Local sweet corn on the cob.
- Bananas from her neighbor's farm.
What are Tiffany’s favorite Common Farms products?
- "I love green pea and the shape of its tendrils. Because of its shape, you can use it as a garnish, or use it in pesto to really get the flavor."
- “Bok Choy (still in our development phase) "I was amazed by the texture of your bok choy - it was very tender but with thicker leaves like kale."