The Sydney Morning Herald

The love that keeps these two chefs on the boil

by Nicole Abadee June 4, 2021

When Grace Chen, 27, met “Big” Sam Young, 33, in the high-pressure environment of a professional kitchen, she wasn’t ready for a boyfriend. But his ebullience, and a shared passion for haute food, soon had her simmering.

Big Sam: When Grace and I first met at Ms. G’s [in Sydney’s Potts Point] in 2014, I was the chef de partie in the pastry section and she was the commis chef, so her role was to help me. I remember thinking she was very quiet, and I found her intimidating because she didn’t smile or talk much. One day, I was putting a scoop of coconut ice-cream on a dessert and I didn’t do a very good job. She said, “Could you please scoop the ice-cream more nicely?” I wasn’t used to anyone speaking to me like that.

From the beginning I could see that Grace was an amazing chef, which is what first attracted me to her. She’s very calm and organised – the opposite of me. We got to know each other better when she joined me and the other chefs trying out new restaurants on our days off. Then I asked her to come with me to Melbourne to visit the restaurant Brae [in Birregurra, Victoria]. I was surprised she said yes because we were a male and female travelling together, staying in the same apartment. I was hoping for romance but nothing happened. I was very disappointed.

I kept trying to impress her. On her birthday one year, I took her for dessert at Sepia [in Sydney’s CBD, now closed] because I know she loves desserts. Afterwards, when I took her to Town Hall station to get the train home, I asked her to be my girlfriend, but she said she wasn’t ready. We finally started dating in 2016.

The next year was a very difficult one for me professionally. I left Ms. G’s and went to work at Automata [in Sydney’s Chippendale]. I’d never done fine dining before and was struggling. Grace was very supportive: she’d listen to me and cook for me. We moved in together. I then went to work at Queen Chow [in Sydney’s Enmore] as head chef and invited her to join me as chef de partie. It was great working together again, but we had some fights because I had high expectations of her. Once, there was a fire in the kitchen and we were both very scared. But after I called the fire brigade, she helped me clean up and we still managed to open for lunch and dinner. Her commitment was incredible.