Interview: O'Mills Bakery's Owner on Good Bread and Simple Food

By Cristina Ng, November 6, 2019

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You might know Chenxia Shao better as Xiao Xiao, the effervescent chef and owner of the popular O’Mills Bakery. The Yongjia Lu restaurant’s runaway success with the wanghong crowd came as quite a surprise to her, and now she’s set to open the brand’s second location in the Jingan Kerry Center. Between bites of her delicious sourdough bread, we found out more about her mission. 

Image courtesy of O'Mills

How long have you been involved in the culinary industry?
I have loved delicious food since I was a teenager and started food blogging 12 years ago. I’ve also worked as a freelance writer and TV chef. I opened my first restaurant eight years ago.

What was the original inspiration for O’Mills?
A few years ago I visited friends at their farm in the English countryside. I enjoyed homemade sourdough bread and healthy organic food in that serene environment. When I returned to Shanghai, I wanted to share this and encourage others to reconnect with nature through food.

Why is it important to mill your own flour?
Product quality is the lifeblood of my restaurant, and we can’t compromise on that count. That doesn’t necessarily mean rare or expensive products, though. It means having knowing eyes and the patience to discover the freshest seasonal ingredients daily. At O’Mills, we prepare every dish like we would for our own families. When it’s for your family, you cook the best ingredients with joy and love.

How will the new O’Mills at the Jingan Kerry Center present a unique experience?
We will keep the simple, natural and earthy style while adding new elements. For example, it will be more like a backyard garden with workshops. Also, the product line will expand to add more handmade fermented foods and vegan options. 

“While I was at Stone Barns, I saw them poach eggs utilizing the heat generated by the compost pile”

As the location is in the heart of the city, it captures Shanghai’s modern lifestyle. We hope to provide nourishment that allows guests to slow down their busy lives through the O’Mills experience.

We know you travel often to meet chefs and share ideas. What experience has left a lasting impact?
My experience visiting Blue Hill at Stone Barns was very enlightening. Dan Barber works to preserve original high-quality seeds without the influence of industrialization. He also educates his entire team on natural agriculture. 

When it comes to cooking, he focuses on bringing out the real flavor of the ingredients, without excessive seasoning or garnishing. By challenging the modern way of cooking and enjoying food, he encourages others to consider the larger global impact of food choices. While I was at Stone Barns, I saw them poach eggs utilizing the heat generated by the compost pile instead of wasting other resources.

In my case, I want to provide my guests with the highest quality food possible in Shanghai. I want everyone to understand what makes really good bread – freshly milled flour and sourdough culture. 

Image courtesy of O'Mills

What accomplishment of your career has made you most proud?
I taught myself how to make the sourdough bread starter and baking techniques. Making sourdough bread is like alchemy; subtle changes in temperature and humidity will make different loaves of bread. That’s why I traveled for three years to learn from masters and chefs all over the world. I’m grateful to them for their generous advice and guidance, which helped me improve.

See listing for O’Mills Bakery (O'Mills second location is due to open in the Jingan Kerry Center soon).

[All photos courtesy of O’Mills Bakery]

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