We have a saying, ‘Everything you do stems from the roots your parents sow’, and food is in our blood. So it made sense that Vanessa and Chris would be restauranteurs. For Vanessa it started in Hong Kong...
M y father wanted to work in the city and found a job as a pot washer in a restaurant in Hong Kong. He began learning the skills in a noisy, bustling kitchen. One of about 100 staff. I can close my eyes and imagine the humidity, smell the thick cooking smells, feel the huge flames from the wok range, hear the chopping of vegetables and the Cantonese chatter, and see my father as a teenager amongst one of the greatest workforces of its time.
“My dad then got an opportunity for a better life in the UK and he took it. With his eldest two brothers already settled in London, it was a natural move to make. He told the Head Chef his plans and he took my dad under his wing, seeing his potential, his eagerness to learn and his instinct for natural flavours.
“He soon learned Dim sum, the meticulous skill of hand crafting small dumplings, traditional methods in roasting and flavouring meats, as well as the art of creating Chinese breads.
After landing in England he went on to be the Head Chef at POONS. If anybody's qualified to talk big on the subject of London's Chinese food scene, it's the Poon family. If your parents lived or worked in London during the Seventies, there's a good chance they dined, drank or partied at Poons — a flock of London restaurants opened by the eponymous Bill and Cecilia. Stars like Jagger and Barbra Streisand descended on the Poon's eateries, and a Michelin star followed for their Covent Garden restaurant.
My mother came to London later, after my dad had settled, and I was born at Westminster hospital. My parents then went on to open a Cantonese Restaurant in Derby and - as it was in my blood - I got my first part time job working with them as a teenager.
For Chris, it all started in Móng Cái, a city of Quang Ninh Province in northern Vietnam. Located on China–Vietnam border….
I was one of seven children all home births in rural surroundings. If you didn't farm it yourself, you would have nothing to eat. The turbulence and danger of being Chinese but living in Vietnam and gradually not being accepted in either countries, meant that difficult times were ahead.
Food and family meals form a central part in any Chinese family and were the only distraction, but when your core survival is in question, things we can take for granted like a childhood with toys, parents' love and praise were only a dream.
From an early age, I worked part time and wanted to be part of the kitchen team, learning all the cooking, prepping and taste combinations, the chemistry of sauce making and how to control the heat and flame of the wok.
I moved to England and met Vanessa and after after a short time I felt confident enough to open my own restaurant. A small and manageable premises in St. Helens. This was our first taste of being on our own and through lots of trial and error, it became a thriving destination place.
But I had visions of a bigger restaurant with a bar and found a premises that could be our dream business in Eccles, Manchester.
Vanessa always said they were the perfect duo, a naturally bossy one to manage the restaurant floor (her!) and a great cook with a hot temper and a hot kitchen (him!).
T he new restaurant was stunning, we made it official and got married there. The joy of having all our family, friends and staff celebrate our big day seemed even more poignant in a place we built. It had always been more like our second home than a workplace to us.
We saw our customers come on dates, get married and bring their children. Our restaurant holds so many memories for so many people, and long lasting friendships have been made.
So when we sold it, we didn’t realise how much we would miss it. So here we are again. This time in Padgate. Older, wiser and just as passionate as when we first started.
At TAO, we have focused on our ultimate flavours. Bringing in our most accomplished Chef who specialises in dim sum, Ah Zheng, we believe we have found our A-team and a perfect location. We hope you can and enjoy being part of it with us.