AlumniThe Food Fighter: Peggy Chan, Eco-Culinarian

Peggy is the founder of popular plant-based cuisine restaurant Grassroots Pantry in Hong Kong SAR.

As someone who is passionate about preserving and improving our eco-environment, she shares with us how she began her journey towards living out her passion and what gives her the fuel to go on.

Please share your academic journey with us, and why you chose to study what you did.

When I realised my passion lay in the culinary arts, I enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa and graduated with a Diploma in Cuisine and Pastry. However I wanted to learn more about restaurant management, so I chose to go to Swiss Hotel Management School (SHMS) to take on a Higher Diploma in Hotel and Resort Management and Events. Being able to start directly in the second year of the course was an added advantage! In my final (third) year, I chose Business Administration as my major before I moved on to Hotel Institute Montreux (HIM) to complete my Bachelor in Business Administration while specialising in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Grassroots Pantry, Peggy Chan - Swiss Higher Diploma in International Hotel Management and Events

At school, I appreciated the open learning environment, which gave me freedom and space to do my own research on the food, farming and organic industries, the economics of these industries, consumption choices and what strategic planning was. We were encouraged to be creative and I also began to think about what it meant to run an ethical business. That charted the course for my career choices.”

What progress have you seen in the work you have done thus far?

It is the little gains and rewards, such as changes in mindsets and practices that motivate me to keep doing what I do. I began The Collective’s Table, a series of collaborative dinners where I invite professional chefs in Hong Kong SAR and around the globe to come cook, develop and taste plant-based cuisine. More importantly, I want them to experience for themselves the benefits that stand to be gained from adopting sustainable food practices and a meatless diet. I also seize every opportunity I can to educate and share what I have learnt, through consulting, speaking at schools or joining panels.

Slowly but surely, our advocacy is changing mindsets and practices. Beyond serving plant-based cuisine, changing industry practices is also something I have been working on.

Grassroots Pantry, Peggy Chan - Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Dual Concentration in BA and Hotel Resort and Restaurant Management

When I see chefs make conscious decisions to recycle and minimise food waste, as well as change their menus to feature food sources that are sustainable and kinder to the environment, or even convert to veganism themselves, I celebrate these victories.”

I want to continue to expand the horizons of what can be created with plant-based foods and to show everyone that eating vegetarian/vegan can go beyond being a special occasion but become a norm. I also hope to contribute to changing the current curriculum (for culinary courses and schools) to incorporate sustainable, eco-friendly teachings.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

One way I have learnt to overcome challenges was to harness my strengths and make them work for me. For example, I am an introvert by nature and appear quiet and reserved. But that is because I choose to listen and observe before deciding what to say or my next course of action. When I speak up, I make sure my message is heard.

Secondly, I embrace challenges! I do things that take me out of my comfort zone, because that’s the best way to learn. Taking up a degree in Business Administration was something that seemed out of my league; however, I knew what I wanted to do and it seemed the best way to equip myself. So I worked hard, and it was so rewarding when I achieved good grades and more importantly, a wealth of knowledge!

Lastly, I have accepted that challenges are always going to come my way, like it or not. I face challenges every single day.

Grassroots Pantry, Peggy Chan - Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Dual Concentration in BA and Hotel Resort and Restaurant Management

As an F&B entrepreneur with a social mission in mind, I have to battle multi-layered challenges, from changing the mindsets of stakeholders, to working to improve the processes that go from farming right through to distribution, and to how we process and consume our food and dispose of waste. It’s huge - we can’t overcome these all at once. Every morning I wake up disappointed with the way things are but I will not let that stop me.

As an alumni, what advice would you give to current students at SHMS and HIM, so that they can get the best out of their time spent getting their degrees/qualifications?

1. Accept your weaknesses together with your strengths, and meet them head-on. Once you know what they are, you’ll be more pro-active at working on them and getting better!

2. Cherish every moment you have as a student and use that time wisely and fruitfully.

3. Always plan ahead so you can make the best choices for your career, and hopefully those plans will include making the world a better place for current and future generations.

Graduate from SHMS Swiss Hotel Management School

Peggy Chan graduated from SHMS Swiss Hotel Management School in 2007 with a Swiss Higher Diploma in International Hotel Management and Events and from Hotel Institute Montreux with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Dual Concentration in BA and Hotel Resort and Restaurant Management, Honours.

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