Put down your woks and pans – Phoebe Chan, founder of Phoebe’s Kitchen and creator of the Mooncake Wellington, shares her journey as an aspiring chef in Hong Kong.
Do you like mooncakes? Are you also a fan of Hong Kong’s butchers and steakhouses? If the answer is yes to either, or both, of these questions, you’ve got to try the Mooncake Wellington from Phoebe’s Kitchen. (And even if you answered no, we’d say the same thing TBH – because they’re absolutely delicious – and unique, too!) Perhaps most impressively, the person behind Phoebe’s Kitchen is only 22 years old. While some of us are still struggling to use the stove properly, Phoebe Chan has already made a name for herself as a budding chef and the proud creator of Hong Kong’s first Mooncake Wellington. How does she do it? Find out in our interview with Phoebe below.
Meet Phoebe Chan (@xphoebeskitchenx), the young mastermind behind Hong Kong’s famous Mooncake Wellington
Hey Phoebe! Thanks for chatting with us. It’s amazing how you’ve become so good at cooking at such a young age. When did you learn how to cook?
I started cooking back when I was still in primary school. As my parents were always out working, my three siblings and I would help with the chores at home. We’d take turns doing the laundry, mopping the floor, throwing out the rubbish, and – my favourite activity of all – cooking up a meal for the whole family. At first, I simply looked at how Mum cooked and followed her ways; soon, I realised how much I enjoyed serving people a whole table of food and pleasing their palates. And before I knew it, I was on my way to become a chef!
How has been your journey to becoming a chef so far?
Actually, I had once planned to study sports science in university, because I liked playing sports, especially rugby. But, perhaps by fate, I was abroad when the interviews were scheduled to happen. So I ended up choosing hotel management instead; I’ve been very happy with this decision because I’ve always loved cooking, and so far, I think it’s worked out well!
Moreover, my family’s always been very supportive of me, even when I chose to take a break from my studies last year to concentrate on building my culinary career. Since then, I’ve gone to Hugo’s in Tsim Sha Tsui for an internship in the kitchen. Following that, I spent six months at the F&B back office for Hyatt Hotel Corporation earlier this year. And of course, I’ve been honing my skills and recipe for the Mooncake Wellington the whole time.
So it was during this year off when you perfected the recipe for your unique Mooncake Wellington. How did this creation first come about?
This idea sprouted in 2020 when I noticed that Hongkongers generally really liked beef wellington, and the mooncake is a cultural symbol. So, I put two and two together and there it was – my special Mooncake Wellington. When I first shared my creation on social media, there was an overwhelmingly positive response – it had over 57,000 likes, 13,000 shares, and it was even featured on Subtle Asian Traits! This was certainly unexpected, but of course, it was a pleasant surprise. Seeing how the Mooncake Wellington has so much potential in the market, I decided to launch it as a product. At first, I had planned to just make the Mooncake Wellingtons in small batches at home. But, my parents encouraged me to make it a bigger venture since it was such an innovative idea. So, here we are this year.
What were some of the challenges you met along the way with this invention?
Perfecting the recipe, especially that of the pastry, took ages. There were many, many rounds of trial and error at home. To refine the taste, shape, cooking time, and the use of ingredients, I had to make over a hundred Mooncake Wellingtons over the span of a few months.
Another huge obstacle was finding factories that were actually willing to invest in and manufacture my mooncakes. As factories usually deal with bigger clients, such as hotels and catering companies, many wouldn’t entertain my small business. Even after having to narrow down to a few from the dozen or so factories we started off with, I had to make sure they could actually achieve what I wanted, whether it’s standardising the quality of the ingredients, or honing in on the design of the pastry. To pull this off, I had to make factory visits from time to time, communicate with the teams there, tweak the recipe if necessary, and monitor every detail. It’s quite a lot of work!
Thankfully, my family is always super helpful. My brother is in charge of the marketing, and my family members always help eat and comment on my products (including those hundred ‘failed’ Mooncake Wellingtons!) Plus, my goal isn’t to make a huge profit; I’m just aiming to make a start this year and establish my brand, so there isn’t too much pressure to earn a lot of money.
Although your family is very supportive (bless them), many university graduates in Hong Kong go on to have / look towards more conventional careers, like law, finance, consulting, or medicine. Have you ever felt the pressure to conform to this?
I’ve actually never compared myself to my friends. On the contrary, some of my friends say that they envy me because I’ve managed to find what I wanted to do. Having said that, I do feel the chef, as a profession, is often looked down upon in Hong Kong; it seems like people think only guys who fail to study would end up being chefs. In fact, some people even told me that becoming a chef would be a waste of my academic achievements. However, I firmly believe that the culinary arts is a real form of knowledge. It’s hard work being a chef, so even the ones who serve the smallest restaurants deserve respect for their skill, effort, passion, and professionalism.
Therefore, I don’t think I’m consciously trying to not conform; I just wish our society could change its impression of chefs as being a second-class profession. For me – and perhaps for most chefs out there as well – success is rather simple. I just like seeing people happy with the food I’ve made for them. This gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
For something as unorthodox as the Mooncake Wellington, there’s bound to be some backlash (ugh). How do you deal with haters and mean comments?
At first, I was quite affected. Not only have there been ongoing debates and incessant negative posts about my mooncakes in some food concern groups on Facebook, but some people would also say to my face that they much rather prefer traditional mooncakes – which, BTW, I completely respect – I’d still feel attacked sometimes. That said, after a while, I’ve realised that most hate comments stem from misunderstanding, or misinformation regarding my product. Eventually, I’ve come to ignore the hate and think to myself that all the negative buzz works as free advertising anyway, right? (Thank you haters!) 😛
What are your plans for the future?
After this Mid-Autumn Festival, I’ll first work towards completing my degree at CUHK. I’m ideating other versions of mooncakes, too. On the other hand, some people have suggested that I should create a YouTube channel, produce cooking videos, or host online cooking classes. But, I think that’ll involve a lot of logistics such as editing, which will take away my time from the kitchen. I want to remain hands-on and focused on cooking for now. Perhaps I’ll head to Le Cordon Bleu after I graduate…! Ultimately, I want to open a restaurant one day.
What would you like to say to your supporters and other young people in Hong Kong?
I really want to thank everyone who’s been supporting me along the way, particularly my family. (I love you!) As for a message for my fellow budding entrepreneurs and dreamers, my advice may sound cheesy, but it’s easier said than done. Because creativity and innovation are crucial in grabbing people’s attention nowadays, you really need to think out of the box. Just take that first step, don’t give up; be patient, and be determined.