Enjoying food is a universal joy. Below is the story of Julie Thai, a chef and food blogger.
Julie is a 32 year old Chinese-Vietnamese born Australian. She has lived all her life in Australia and is the first generation of her family to be born here. I asked Julie about how and when she started working as a chef, and why she is so passionate about food.
“Sharing food, cooking food for other people, it brings enjoyment, the satisfaction and the appreciation that you receive is very rewarding.
It’s a simple thing that you enjoy in life… that you are able to make someone else happy at least that time that you’re cooking.”
Although her Asian parents wanted her to be a doctor, lawyer or other respectable profession, Julie decided she liked being artistic and chose subjects such as woodwork and graphic design at school. At the end of year 12, her ENTER score wasn’t great as art subjects were scaled down, and she wasn’t left with many university choices.
At the time she was working after school at a café, and she noticed that there were apprentices there helping the owner and the head chef with cooking. So she decided to start an apprenticeship straight after year 12. The first three months were extremely difficult, working and studying in a new environment, but she was determined not to give up.
After her experience at the café, Julie decided to make a good living out of this career and applied to work for a French restaurant in the city, where she fell in love with pastry. This led to her studying a course on patisserie. On her love of making sweet foods –
“It’s a science…there’s a lot more patience needed to go into pastry than just a normal savoury recipe. There’s more of a science to it in terms of the heat, how you mix it, the temperature of the eggs… although it’s simple, it’s a lot more challenging.
…for me it was more artful, like a creative outlet and the bare plate was my canvas. The food became this medium that I used to make sure that it tasted good flavour wise, visually and texturally.”
Julie then went on to open a home based dessert catering business, which more recently, turned into her own cooking channel (coming soon). The aim is to teach people how to cook nutritious and healthy meals because despite it being a necessity, she sees it as a dying art, with people lacking even basic cooking skills such as cutting vegetables properly.
“We live in such a busy world these days that, for example parents can’t even sit down for five minutes to teach their kids how to cut a cucumber or an onion or a carrot… …. there’s no recipes to pass down anymore, because everyone is too busy, so they can’t remember how to make it or there is no print of that family’s recipe. …And it’s sad.
…Food and family for me are very important, because we were taught that no matter what we had- every time we had dinner, we had to sit together. Even if we’re not talking to each other, it’s important just to spend that little bit of time to connect with your family, because if not, then you’re stuck on the TV or you’re stuck to eating on your own all the time and then it becomes like a world that’s not connected anymore.”
In the past Julie only saw her cousins about once a year, however these days she makes sure to schedule cousin time every couple of months for a potluck meal, where everyone brings a dish and they get excited about what kind of food each person bring.-
“ It’s nice, because it means that we’re exchanging cooking tips, different recipes or different cuisine and we’re sharing it with the people we love.”
I asked Julie about the biggest challenge she faced setting up her own business. Her response was that she just didn’t know how to run a home based business at the start, and the biggest hurdle was speaking to potential clients. It was very daunting as she had to manage her own sales which was different to being in the kitchen all the time. To overcome this, she’s immersed herself into public speaking roles, including taking up different jobs to practise this skill (such as speed dating hosting and teaching dance classes). This has helped her to become used to talking in public without feeling uncomfortable.
Julie’s aim through her food channel is to continue sharing her love of cooking and food to more people around the world (Cooking with Chinita website and youtube channel coming in January 2019).
For a young person starting a new business, Julie’s advice is for them to ask where they see themselves in five years time, and to put away extra money and have a backup plan. She also advises people to ensure they have specific experience relating to their business. For example, if they are running a café, have they seen how the front is run as well as the kitchen and accounts? Whether it be a hotel, restaurant or café, she advises that it’s important to have worked in that environment and know at least one role in that environment really well, so that other people can be hired to complement your skills in other roles.
When asked to provide one piece of advice to younger girls today, Julie responded-
“Just believe in yourself. …Don’t take everyone else’s opinion about you personally because they’re not living your life – they only see what’s on the surface but they don’t see what’s on the inside.
..Take time to understand who you are, what you want and what you love, without having to judge, or taking other people’s words, to think that that’s what you are.”
Vanilla Dream Recipe
Julie’s favourite simple dessert recipe for a Vanilla Dream can be found here.
To follow Julie’s journey, please go to Cooking with Chinita.
Chiara is the founder of CIIARA. A French-born Vietnamese living in Melbourne. Passionate about dance, fashion and social change.