Food News

On the pass: Kitty Hong Xiao of Sydney vegan restaurant Bodhi

The dumpling maestro on the challenges of being a female chef, the evolution of Chinese cuisine and which dish she has made millions of times throughout her career.

By Lee Tran Lam
Kitty Hong Xiao
You started your career by training with a master dumpling chef. What was that like?
Thirty years ago, it was incredibly tough for a woman in this industry, especially for someone petite like me. I had to constantly prove myself through my skills and my willingness to do any role. You were expected to be able to do anything the men could do. This included moving incredibly heavy sacks of rice, boxes of produce and working the woks, which physically is one of the tougher jobs in the kitchen. Skills-wise, learning to perfect the shape of each dumpling at the speed needed to produce enough for service is always challenging.
You've been working at Bodhi for more than 16 years. Do you remember any dishes from its first vegan yum cha menu?
The menu has always been fairly traditional, so some of the first dishes were the bao (buns), dumplings, combination mushroom ball and cheong fun (folded rice noodles).
Have tastes changed?
People always want more variety when it comes to dumplings, but the popular ones have remained the same. There's a reason yum cha has been around for centuries! Now all our dumpling skins are gluten-free – something we never even considered 20 years ago.
What's the hardest thing to make on your vegan yum cha menu?
The barbecue buns. Being vegan, we can't just buy in pork, we have to actually make every element of a plant-based version from scratch. When you fold the bread buns, you create a perfect flower at the top, which has to split open just enough when you steam it for you to be able to see the hint of red inside – without the sauce coming out.
Which dish have you cooked the most?
Dumplings: millions and millions of dumplings!
Bodhi, 2-4 College St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9360 2523, bodhirestaurant.com.au