From chef to seasoned chief executive |
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From chef to seasoned chief executive

Published on Friday, 21 Oct 2011
Liz Seaton
Owner and founder, Gingers Private Catering
Photo: Berton Chang

Among the well-fed and the well-connected, Gingers is as close to a household name as a catering company can get.

Known particularly for its exquisite canapes and trademark desserts, the boutique company also prepares delicious main courses, for both corporate clients and private individuals.

The dishes use high-quality ingredients to create generous portions of tasty choices such as duck spring rolls, crab avocado, slow cooked pork, and beef served on a bed of risotto. The dishes are mainly Western with some Asian influences.

One of those influences is Asian root ginger, the partial source of inspiration for the company's name. The other half comes from the curly ginger hair that sits atop the head of Gingers' founder, chef Liz Seaton.

This year, as Gingers celebrates its 10th birthday, Seaton's transformation from chef to seasoned businesswoman is complete.

Seaton is no celebrity chef, and looks unlikely to screech orders or throw tantrums in the kitchen. Instead, seated sedately, in a simple black dress with her hands folded on her lap, she looks every inch the poised, focused and no-nonsense business owner that she is - albeit one with a warm smile and sparkling eyes that hint at a certain fun-loving feistiness.

That sense of adventure has taken Seaton a long way - from Scotland, where she was first inspired by the cooking of both her parents, on to chefs college in Edinburgh, then trying her hand at corporate catering before sailing around the Mediterranean and the Caribbean as a chef on private yachts.

From there, she arrived in Hong Kong where she set up Gingers in 2001. She had spotted a niche in the market after friends and colleagues filled her evenings by asking her to help with dinner parties and other events.

She thought opening a business would give her more control over her time, but for the first year, she was working day and night, often seven days a week. Now, it's more manageable, she says, although she's always on call.

"When you run your own business, sometimes you still have to fill in the gaps," she says.

Seaton has high standards for Gingers, and they clearly work, as most of her business comes from word of mouth and repeat bookings. It's the positive feedback that makes it all worthwhile, she adds.

"When we get lots of feedback from our clients [...] saying everything was great and thank you so much, it'sreally satisfying for everyone at Gingers. [...] To see it all come together on the night is really cool. And then also to see the client's face, and say, wow, we've done it."

It takes hard work, and all her attention. Normally, she works from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday.

Her days are spent on office work, client meetings, overseeing events, menu planning, and running up and down to the nearby kitchen.

She has no time for lunch or the gym, and gave up trying to make it to yoga classes.

"I found I was getting more stressed out by [trying] to get away than I was trying to de-stress at yoga," she says with a laugh. "I love to go home and sit on my roof, and watch the light show at 8 o'clock in the evening with a glass of wine. I do actually like to wind down and entertain at home. I love that."

But booming business has meant that cooking has now become almost a treat, she says.

Nowadays, Gingers' 15 full-time employees and about 35 support staff cater for more than 1,000 events a year, including executive lunches, corporate events, private dinners, buffets and weddings. The success has made Seaton a professional businesswoman, and she has found her own way of managing the company based around constant communication with her staff, regular meetings and teamwork.

Many of her employees have been with Gingers since the beginning, and their loyalty and enthusiasm for the company is almost palpable. Seaton, though, will take none of the credit.

"I try to be a manager but I'm not really, because I'm trained as a chef," she explains. "I couldn't do this without all the fantastic people that I've got in the company. I could not have done Gingers without them. It's definitely not all about me."

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