Despite what people may think, being in the food and beverage industry isn’t all that glamourous. You work when everybody else is taking a break and even though the dishes on your plate look like they are perfect almost all the time, the hard work it took to get it that way is anything but. Yng Lyn Siew is a good example of the passion and dedication needed to make it in the F&B industry. Four years ago she redefined modern Chinese cuisine with Ruyi & Lyn and today she shares with The Peak Malaysia the gumption it took to make it to where she is today. A trait that makes her the perfect candidate for our collaboration with Breitling.
You weren’t at all trained in the Food & Beverage industry. In fact, you were working in broadcasting in Berlin for quite some time before coming back to Malaysia and opening Ruyi & Lyn. Take us through how you decided to get into the F&B industry.
To be honest I never thought of getting into the industry. Ironically, it was seeing how hard my parents (founders of The Oriental Group) had to work and long hours they had to put in, that was off-putting for me. I was like NO WAY am I going into this industry. But after a while you realise how viable the F&B industry is as a business. And I also started to really enjoy eating and I think that is a big part of it. Eating.
For Chinese restaurants, people always have this perception of it being quite a rough and casual cuisine. And not being very sexy, especially for the younger generation. So, when I started Ruyi & Lyn I wanted to make it appealing and relevant to the next generation of diners. The whole idea was to reinvent Chinese dining and make it accessible and trendy. And in the case of Malaysia, I made it pork free as well. I believe that good food should be enjoyed by everyone and not limited to one race or religion. So, with this I open up Chinese dining to everybody.
In fact, when we first opened there was more scepticism than optimism. The whole ambiance is not at all what you would expect of a Chinese restaurant. It was dark, very clubbish, it had a DJ console, a big screen playing Beyonce. But the fact that we have managed to be around for four years proves that the concept works. We did something right.
Was it a challenge to break that stereotype of what Chinese cuisine was? How did you pull through?
As with any new restaurant, there was a bit of hype when we opened, and people were curious and wanted to check it out. Then of course the curve tapers down. But how we managed to continuously sustain ourselves throughout the four years was to focus on what’s important which is the food and drinks. And I think, with this you can push through anything. Just believe in what you do and keep it consistent. I think sometimes in this industry people can give up too easily. You need the gumption to keep on pushing through and of course a lot of hard work.
The culinary world often can be quite a masculine one. Was it difficult for you to break into the industry as a woman?
80 percent of the people in the industry are male. This includes partners, suppliers and kitchen staff. To be honest when I first came it people perceived me as a just another blonde and someone who was just too nice. But when they see your perseverance and hard work, they will start to respect you.
We heard that you just got back from Australia, where you opened another restaurant? What else have you been up to these days?
Apart from Ruyi & Lyn, we have just opened a new restaurant in Melbourne called Yu Kitchen which is a joint venture between The Oriental & Ruyi Group in Malaysia and Calia Collective of Australia. Also, I am currently building a food recruitment platform with my former colleagues in Germany called Food Cult. It is like a social media platform that is targeted to foodies and acts as a recruitment platform as well.
The last time we spoke, you did have some problems with staffing. Is this still going on?
Yes. A lot of our local talents go to greener pastures simply because other countries pay better. But this is where I am trying to use the food recruitment platform I am building in hopes to attract foreign talent to Malaysia.
Another thing I am trying to do is to start a culinary school. I am looking to target the younger generation and nurture the next gen of F&B talents. I want to change the perception of being in the food industry. I want it to come to a point where if a kid tells their parents ‘I want to work in a Chinese restaurant’ they are not going to look at it negatively.
This school will be a standalone school and the whole idea is to instil an attitude where you feel like you are doing this for yourself. In a way we are trying to instil the passion of the food and beverage industry instead of just giving you a certificate and sending you on your way. It shouldn’t be a plan B. It should be an ambition.
Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38mm
Lyn Siew is wearing the Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38mm that basically took the classic icon of the brand – The Navitimer – and shrunk it down to a more wearable size for women. Being a part of the legendary Navitimer family, the watch comes complete with the slide rule for various aviation calculations but what’s new is the beaded and ratcheted bidirectional bezel that gives the watch a distinctly elegant look.
ART DIRECTION AUDREY LIM
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBIN LIEW