Pauline Lai bringing proper Chinese family food to the Mandarin in Blackpool
PUBLISHED: 17:17 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:21 26 February 2013
Meet the Blackpool woman who has swapped high-tech engineering for the sweet and<br/>sour life. Emma Mayoh reports
You couldnt accuse Pauline Lai of not having the courage of her convictions. When she decided she could make the best sweet and sour chicken, she didnt just boast about it. She opened her own restaurant.
Since 2005, the 37-year-old has been serving up her trademark meal, along with a host of other traditional dishes, at Mandarin in Blackpool. It was a dramatic change of career for Pauline, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to Salford when she was 12.
Two of her uncles, Bing Kwok and Sum Kwok, are well regarded chefs back in Hong Kong, her father, Shutim Lai, ran several Chinese restaurants in Manchester and Cheshire and her mum, Ceming Kwok, still runs a chip shop in Salford.
She had always helped in the family businesses but, determined to strike
out on her own, she decided to be different.
For several years she worked in aerospace engineering as a specialist in carbon fibre. She was based at BAE Systems in Samlesbury developing designs for the Harrier jet project. During her time here she was also a consultant for McLaren who were looking at developing new ways of making their Formula One cars lighter and more aerodynamic.
She was nominated for Woman Engineer of the Year by The Institution of Engineering an accolade she won but turned down because she had decided to leave the industry. It was at this time she started thinking about other things she could do.
She said: When I was at BAE, carbon fibre was just being introduced and we were at the forefront of those developments. It was a very exciting time. It was where it was all happening. But I found I needed a new challenge.
It was when she started working at Mandarin in Blackpool in 2003, while still her job at BAE Systems, that her passion for food and running her own place was re-ignited. Then owner, Michael Wan, decided to retire and approached her to take on the restaurant.
She said: I had had enough of corporate life and started to think about going back to the family business. Michael was well known and the restaurant had been established since 1961. It is one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the UK.
He offered me the opportunity and I thought I could really inject new life into it and give it a go. A year after Id started working there, I took over.
Pauline, who also runs cookery classes, has not looked back. The restaurant, which has just undergone a 100,000 renovation inspired by the Tang Dynasty, is the only oriental restaurant in the county to have been awarded the Taste Lancashire Highest Quality Assured Award and diners flock to try the food. Although she doesnt spend as much time reportsin the kitchen as she used to, she still helps develop the recipes and is determined to put Blackpool on the food map.
She said: I love every minute of what I do and Im really pleased I took the chance at the Mandarin. Here, we serve proper Chinese food that is cooked well and everyone who visits us really enjoys what we do. That makes me very happy.
There are many people who think badly about Blackpool but I think its a great place. I really hope more people will come here and I will be able to show them that you can have a good dining experience here. I love developing new menus and tastes using locally sourced products and I want to ensure the Mandarin experience continues to grow and we continue to offer the best that Lancashire has to offer with that oriental twist.