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.