Bibliophile | Jess Ho’s ‘raised by wolves’ delivers memoir with bite

raised by wolves
by Jess Ho
Affirm Press

Growing up in a Cantonese family in the racist outer suburbs of Melbourne, Jess Ho remembers the strict discipline, bordering on abuse, meant that she never made a fuss. Their extraordinary achievements at school were never good enough and they recall if “I wasn’t in hospital; therefore I was fine.”

The only time their dysfunctional Chinese family seemed to bond was when everybody got together around a Lazy Susan. With all the aunts, uncles and cousins that probably weren’t even blood relatives of Jess and their sister, it was almost as if they grew up in restaurants.

At fifteen, they moved out of home because of the emotional and physical abuse and had to support themselves while continuing to go to school. A job at a fast food outlet with minimal wage, then a job at a fancy inner city pub while doing an Arts degree at university was their launch into Melbourne’s food scene.

Jess always thought they’d work in hospitality until they figured out how to make money from their arts degree, but ended up making a career as a food and alcohol expert. Hospitality provided “one big, mutually exhausted and dysfunctional family”, a family of outsiders who shared a lust for life but were also on a self-destructive trajectory.

Long hours and copious amounts of after-hours alcohol had detrimental effects on their health and bank account, but fortunately a forced holiday to New York allowed them to explore New York’s restaurants recommended by “Filipino bartenders, Haitian taxi drivers, Mexican kitchen hands and Chinese grocers”.

Describing themselves as a non-conformist fourth wave feminist that doesn’t fit into heteronormative pigeon holes, Ho has no sentimental feelings towards the hospitality industry as they write how it forced her to develop life skills. This really is “a memoir with bite”.

The title describes someone who seems particularly uncouth or socially inept, and probably the hostile contributions their mother had to their upbringing as well. Ho is ferocious in exposing the exploitation, intimidation, bullying, gas lighting and harassment in an industry that is still their family and they have just launched a podcast series on SBS called Bad Taste.

Lezly Herbert

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