All-round creative Yang Zhao has most recently been focussing her time and enterprising energy on reintroducing Dim Sum as a food concept, a dining culture, and a medium for communication and conversation. Her company, Beijing Opera, has taken the form of pop-ups, Food Jams and Dim Sum classes. Plans are brewing for a permanent eatery soon. Design is an important part of her business from her CI by Daniel Ting Chong to designing the dining experiences for her pop-up events. We caught up with Yang for our Creative Women series.
You’ve played the role of artist, curator, DJ, and have launched your own T-shirt label. What made you delve into the world of dim sum and pop-ups? Is there any going back?
Not a DJ or an artist. It was a music initiative called Doepelganger. With my two most awesome friends who have so much knowledge in music, they can put some male DJs to shame. They’re Mmaphuthi Morule, a retired rapper (too soon I’d say) and Makosha Maja, who also happens to be a talented ad strategist by day. Anyway, back to the question. I wanted to make some extra cash in between my day jobs so I started selling potstickers at the You Me & Everyone We Know market on weekends. Then it became popular, and the ideas came, and here we are. Yea, I’d like to go back to doing some of the other stuff I used to do. Ideas are always popping, but is there ever enough time in the day to do them all?
What have you learnt from your previous roles that applies to being a dim sum entrepreneur?
What do you love about the pop-up revolution?
I love it because popping up involves different physical spaces and the spaces themselves bring in unique energies that you can either flow with or go against, in the process of placing your products. When something is not confined, you feel more free, flexible to think out of the ordinary, or push yourself, per se. Also, as opposed to opening a restaurant, one can avoid a lot of fixed overhead costs, especially when we’re not certain if an idea could work. It’s a nice middle ground between commitment and disclaimer.
Rumour has it you’re planning a permanent eatery, launching soon. Can you tell us about it yet?
Yes. I can, a little bit. It will be in Cape Town, before the summer. It will be designed and built by two young talented minds. How about a next feature? 😉
What’s the concept behind Beijing Opera?
It was built after being so well received in food markets that I wanted to try push it a little further by building a brand concept around it; gather it properly so when it takes off, if it does, it’s not so loose ended. But there wasn’t a huge idea/concept behind it. We’re just going as it moves along.
Who taught you to cook?
My two grandmothers, one of whom is late.
What’s your favourite food memory?
So many. All the strange little breakfasts I’ve had growing up. Also one of my best when I was so into learning how to make a seaweed soup from my grandma that I forgot I had a piano lesson. When I never showed up at my teacher’s house, he called my mother, who then came home and stormed into the kitchen and said, ” Is this what you want to do with your life? Making soup? ” Haha, it’s just funny the things people say when they get angry.
What about your job requires you to be the most creative?
I like writing the menu and recipe for my pop up dinners in collab with various venues and spaces. Especially vegetarian menus, I’m still struggling!
What are the challenges of being an independent business owner?
The admin! They say 70 percent of the job is done if we can master the admin. Well…
What are you good at?
I can make a mean omelette. An friend taught me, the lesson was about being assertive and confident when flipping the egg with all the fillings inside.
When you have moments to kill on the internet, what are you researching, reading and looking at?
Social media, watching movies online. I like internet spots with loads of pictures and few words, lazy me.
Who do you surround yourself with, and how does this influence you?
My best friends! You know who you are. (Small shoutout: These past few years would have been a mess without you all) They share love and support, which gives me confidence.
Who are the creative women who inspire you?
I go through stages with inspiration. There aren’t specific people’s names. It’s more like snippets of their ideas. I don’t like to put people on a pedestal, I find that to change me too much. I have to say though, I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent women alive today. They inspire me all the time.
What are the food trends you’re noticing in SA right now? Are there trends when it comes to dim sum?
Raw food, slow food, all natural foods. Not only in SA but in the world. I have discovered raw pizzas, they’re delicious. Sweet dim sums have been a trend for a little while especially in major food cities like New York and Hong Kong. I want to bring the ramen back though 🙂
You’re hosting a dinner as part of the upcoming Spier Secret Festival. Will you let us in on the concept?
Yes, 11 October, as a part of the festival. I’ve wanted to host a secret dinner since last year already, so it’s a small dream come true. I enjoy working with Spier, they have a fresh and warm energy about them that’s very rare in this “cut throat” business of eating food! The concept…it will have to be a secret. Hope you have booked!
What are you looking forward to?
I look forward to my next travel, I live for seeing the world.
More Creative Women.
Film by Lebogang Rasethaba:
Pop-ups & events: