Prestige’s ‘Empowered Women’ series dive into the world of strong women who are leading by example in their own ways. Here, Jessica “Paope” Wang Yuheng, winner of Masterchef All Stars Thailand 2020, ponders on her journey and passion.
Born in Thailand to Taiwanese hotelier parents, 26-year-old Jessica “Paope” Wang Yuheng, the winner of Masterchef All Stars Thailand 2020, was headed for the life of a hotelier some five years ago. Having finished high school in Singapore, she went on to study Hotel Management at the renowned Swiss Hotel Management School. When she finally decided that cooking might be something she wanted to try instead, she was 21. Up until that point, she had never stepped into a kitchen.
“I remember at the end of my first week at Le Cordon Bleu London, my fingers were covered in plasters. I had never cooked before. Most people think that they have to start cooking when they’re young if they want to be a successful chef. That’s not the case. You just have to be interested, and willing to learn,” she says, with utter conviction.
In less than five years, Paope was able to move from studying French cuisine and patisserie in London, to Thai cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit. And it was not long before she crafted her unique signature style – a reinterpretation of dessert fare with a savoury twist that blends European and Asian influences – that landed her on one of television’s top reality TV cooking shows.
“My proudest moment, over the last few years, is winning the title of Masterchef All Stars Thailand. But it’s not just the title that means a lot to me, it’s more so the journey up to the win. Cooking is one thing. Being on a screen in front of millions of viewers is another,” she admits.
“I care about what others think. At first it was an adjustment being in the public eye where millions of people analyse your every move. When you’re on live TV like that, everything you do is judged. Not just the way you cut or prepare food, but the way you move, the way you look, the answers you give. At first, I didn’t want the world to think I thought I knew it all, so when the judges asked me questions, I’d give very simple answers or say I didn’t know.”
Paope soon learned that her audiences would penalise her for that. “I had to learn that in life, especially when you’re in the spotlight, not everyone is going to love you as much as your parents do. Some people are going to dislike you… a lot! Once that sunk in, I was able to go back and really look through all the negative comments people were making about me and use them to my advantage. That, for me, was real growth.
“I gained more confidence,” she continues, “and as my confidence grew, people’s confidence grew in me.”
When asked about what she thinks true success is, she answers: “Success is when you’re proud of yourself, but you still think it’s not good enough so you keep going. When you stop, because you think you’re successful, that’s dangerous. Never stop”
Winning the prestigious cooking title opened many doors for Paope, and she soon found herself cooking at private chef tables at noteworthy establishments such as the Mandarin Oriental, Banyan Tree, and Marriott Marquis. “I enjoyed this. People were able to see I wasn’t just someone on a screen. I was able to genuinely connect with people and cook for them.”
“My proudest moment, over the last few years, is winning the title of Masterchef All Stars Thailand. but it’s not just the title that means a lot to me, it’s more so the journey up to the win”
These sorts of experiences are why she is so excited about opening her restaurant – at the end of next year, she hopes, depending on the Covid-19 situation. “I really like connecting with my clients and cooking for them directly, and I dream of first having a restaurant to call my own. And, in 10 years, a chain of restaurants. The restaurant next year will entail three concepts: café, Thai modern cuisine (family casual dining), and a private chef ’s table, which is one of my signatures. By then, I will also hopefully also be giving private classes for those looking to start their cooking journey.”
Alongside running her Taiwanese bakery Babekery, and an IG fashion boutique called @OurHour, Paope also recently released her own cookbook, Paope Masterchef All Stars Thailand, which she hopes will inspire others to understand that it’s never too late to get into the kitchen.
“This is really where I share my journey, with all my recipes. People could only see me two hours a week on a screen on Masterchef Thailand, but in this book I go deep into the recipes, and offer tips and even my thoughts and feelings during the competition.
“When I look at people who can’t cook, I think, that was me only a few years ago,” she remarks. “So I want to inspire them to know they can do it too. This is when I feel most powerful, when I share why I do what I do, and how to do what I do. With determination and perseverance, we can do anything.”
So, is there anything she wished she had known before she started? “Not knowing is a good thing, that’s what creates the challenge,” she answers. “It’s like the mystery box challenge when you have to create a dish out of ingredients you find in a box. You don’t know what to expect. Having the unpredictable stuff is what creates a memorable journey.”
Jewellery: Gems Pavilion
Photographer: Vatcharasith Wichyanrat
Photographer’s Assistant: Somboonkiat Wonghom & Kiattisak Janprai
Stylist: Chittawatr Buramyakorn
Stylist’s Assistant: Thitikorn Homnaul
Makeup Artist: Nontalee Wongpeng
Hair Stylist: Kitphisuth Kanchanakawinphong
Editorial Coordinator: Kanyaphat Somwong
Location: Alexander And James
This story was first published in the August 2021 issue of Prestige Thailand.
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