And if that wasn’t enough, she has written a memoir, also entitled Sweet Mandarin, which has now become a play, Mountains. It makes its London debut this week (18-20 April at the Stratford Circus Arts Theatre E15 1BY) and continues across the country until 2 June.
Helen grew up in the UK but always felt a piece of her story was missing. As her extraordinary memoir explains, she comes from a family of strong women, with three generations held together by one lifeline – food. Celebrity Chef Ken Hom commented on her book Sweet Mandarin:“A gripping tale of struggle, laughter, love and food… with a universal story of survival that will move your soul.”
Crayfish.io’s brand – ‘the global online platform to unlock your Chinese dreams’ – resonates with Helen. She is very happy to join the Crayfish.io network, and she will act as its influencer to help the young generation realise their Chinese dreams.
Read her answers to some key questions below:
Why are you collaborating with Crayfish.io?
As a corporate lawyer, I want to extend my network and work with clients both large and small. On the non-business side, I like the idea of Crayfish.io helping people to realise their potential.
What do you think of the Crayfish.io business model?
Crayfish is both innovative and inspirational, allowing talented Chinese speakers to use their skills to benefit both themselves and business clients. Often these are Chinese people studying in the UK or possibly people working in jobs that don’t necessarily enable them to pursue their real interests. Crayfish gives them the opportunity to pitch for diverse projects and to earn money in the process.
How did you come to open a restaurant?
I studied law at Cambridge University and qualified as a tax solicitor with Clifford Chance in London and Hong Kong. I moved back to my hometown, Manchester, to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I ended up heading the China Business Desk. But after returning from a family trip to Hong Kong, I felt I had rediscovered my roots – my grandmother and mother were both restauranteurs. I was compelled to do something in business with my two sisters.
My twin Lisa and my younger sister Janet all graduated and went into professional careers: Lisa is in finance and Janet’s an engineer. But despite working in these different fields, we decided to go into the restaurant business and return to our roots.
Everyone has their own life to lead and I believe we must follow our dreams. My passion is food, people and business and at that time, Sweet Mandarin was an expression of our dreams.
Are you a lawyer or a chef?
I am both! I am a partner with Clarke Willmott LLP, a law firm with 700 staff across seven offices, where I specialise in buying and selling companies. I also work with Chinese investors who want to invest in the UK and help them with their corporate and immigration law requirements. I am proud that I have managed to keep working as a solicitor and help people.
I am also still a co-owner of Sweet Mandarin and cook with my twin sister Lisa. We have cooked for Premier Li, President of China, and for two British Prime Ministers – David Cameron and Theresa May. In 2014 Lisa and I both received MBEs from Her Majesty the Queen for services to Food and Drink because she buys our sauces.
I want to continue to be both a chef and a lawyer because you will always need to know your rights and I love good food. No path ever closes completely unless you want it to, and life is more fluid than we generally make it out to be.
Surely you don’t have time for anything else?
We also sell our sauces, run a cookery school and corporate team building days, and have written six books between us. Three cookbooks made The TimesBestseller List. My most recent law book was Doing Business After Brexit.
Sweet Mandarinhas been published in 33 countries and will appear on Kindle. It is also being translated into Mandarin Chinese this summer.
There are 40 flavours of Sweet Mandarin sauces available now, including Barbecue, Sweet Chilli and Sweet and Sour – they are all gluten, MSG and additive free and are available from our website www.sweetmandarin.net
What do you think of the play based on your memoirs?
The play has been adapted from Sweet Mandarin. It’s also remarkably the first ever true story told about a British Chinese family.
The play sold out in Manchester Royal Exchange and has had excellent reviews. The lead roles are played by East Asian actresses and actors; the music by the talented Ruth Chan; the director the sought-after Jennifer Tan; the playwright is In-Sook Chappell and the book by the first British-born Chinese author. It’s a first on many levels. Finally, through this play, the East Asian voice can be heard.
* Sweet Mandarin beat 10,000 restaurants to win celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey s ‘Best Local Chinese Restaurant’ category on Channel 4 TV’s The F Word.
Crayfish.io matches talented Chinese speaking professionals with Western businesses who need help in dealing with their Chinese partners and audiences, providing a source of qualified people to undertake projects and offer information, knowledge and cultural insight.
Business users post their projects on to the site and freelancing Chinese speakers bid for the work, with the transaction carried out through the web-based Crayfish.io platform. Users pay a fee after they accept a freelancer's proposal, with payment – less commission – released on completion of the job. The Crayfish team also offers to project manage on behalf of the client for larger and more complex tasks. Find out more here