Alysia Chan is cooking up something special for women and non-binary people working in the food and drinks biz
BY YAIZA CANOPOLI. IMAGES THE BLACK SWAN
Founded by Alysia Chan and based in Singapore, The Anna Alliance, started when a former female colleague of Alysia’s realised how easy it was working together while the pair were planning to open a new restaurant.
“It was a collaborative effort without the usual misogyny, which was refreshing from our previous experiences working with male counterparts in the industry,” explains Alysia.
DIVA: What inspired you to formerly found The Anna Alliance?
ALYSIA CHAN: We saw the likes of WCR in the US and Women In Hospitality in Australia and wondered why there wasn’t something similar in Singapore. We set out with the purpose of setting up a network of not just female chefs but generally women in the F&B field – be it bartenders, Front Of House staff, or marketing professionals. It is a goal that all of us in our respective areas of expertise would be able to support and nurture one another.
The name “Anna” carries connotations of food and nourishment in various languages. Was it a conscious choice to pick a name that makes women feel not just empowered to fight but “nourished”?
Yes, it’s all that indeed, and Anna also represents the female form in many different languages. I think women are by nature nurturers and we really wanted to use that as our strength. We had intended to name ourselves Shefs (she + chefs) but it didn’t translate well verbally, and also prevented us from including those outside the world of chefs specifically.
What are the main obstacles you have encountered so far?
Each stage of my career has come with a different set of challenges, but I think I have been quite fortunate to have not encountered any abuse or bias thus far. However, being in the industry over the years has opened me up to the different journeys others go through to get to where we are, and this is definitely one of the motivations behind how the Anna Alliance was formed.
How do you think your work in Singapore fits into the wider, international conversation of the #MeToo movement?
These issues are as prevalent in Singapore as they are globally but perhaps the Asian mind-set is to just grit your teeth and stay silent. The challenge has been to get people to open up and tell their story, and for people not to shy away from the subject just because they view it as taboo. Even if we can be a small part of that change in a global movement, we will do what it takes. Every step counts towards opening this up and to be part of a wider conversation.
What are your rules for running a “fair kitchen”?
I hire based on passion and attitude. Gender, sexual orientation, race, or age play absolutely no part in whether or not I decide to hire an individual. I say the same thing at every job interview: “I can teach you skills, but I can’t teach you passion or the right attitude.” One rule that I do enforce is to be respectful to one another in all aspect – this is not just you as a kitchen professional, this is as a human being.
What advice would you give to other people looking to make the industry they work in more of a level playing field?
This may be idealistic, but hire them on the same basis – skill, experience, passion, and attitude. That would be a great start. Take that and nurture their passion. Be respectful – we all have something to learn from each other regardless of our level.
How do you think LGBTQI rights play into the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace?
To my knowledge, the most common sexual harassment to queer women occurs when hetero men automatically assume that women are queer because they have never had good experiences with men, and they then proceed to take it upon themselves to prove a point. I think what’s important here is to understand that as queer women, we are already denied “straight privilege.” That’s something I hope people can be more aware of. This is a job based on skill and passion, and a person’s sexual orientation should never at any point come into play.
What one piece of advice would you give to other women and non-binary people working in male-dominated industries?
Hold your own, show no fear, and don’t back down. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you feel something isn’t right, or especially if the culture is abusive. Having a good HR team to support you doesn’t hurt either.
What kind of work can we expect from you and the Anna Alliance in the future?
We are growing steadily at a grassroots level, as a community, and are constantly looking to build awareness around the topic. There will be more events, hopefully with visiting internationally-known female chefs to share their global experience, and with professionals from all areas of the F&B industry that can help cultivate a thriving and safe workspace. We are even planning self-branding workshops for the up & coming folks.
If you could recommend just one dish from your restaurant to DIVA readers visiting Singapore, what would it be?
My favourite dish on our menu is the Hokkaido Pork Loin with Vanilla Cauliflower Puree and Fennel nashi salad. The vanilla in the puree is polarising but that’s also why I love it!
Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, support queer content and buy the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.