1. You hold a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry and a Diploma in French Pastry Technique. Do the former complement the latter in your job today?
Yes, I think my former degree gives me a unique advantage. Baking is a chemical reaction, and pastry-making is all about precision, just like chemistry. Being adept in Chemistry has helped shape the way I work. When things go wrong in the kitchen, I can easily identify the cause and modify my approach more effectively.
2. How did you come to discover your love for baking and pastry?
I started to bake when I moved to the United States with my husband who was doing his PHD studies. We were surviving on a meagre stipend from his institution, which meant we couldn’t eat out all the time. I started to experiment in the kitchen, and after a while it became an absolute obsession. I baked almost every day for my friends, and eventually, I decided to get professional training at the French Pastry School in Chicago.
3. How did you land your first stint at the Ritz Carlton Chicago?
It was rather unexpected. I did a cold call asking if they were hiring and found out that they were indeed hiring but were not advertising for the position as they were trying to fill it internally. I persuaded the chef to let me go in for a try out and interview, and that was how I embarked on my professional career.
4. What was the most important lesson you learned under the tutelage of Francois Payard?
Perseverance and hard work are the most important attributes as a chef. Everyone under Chef Francois Payard works extremely hard. I have never worked as hard in my life before I met Chef Payard. He has very high standards and would not compromise or allow mediocracy in his patisserie. He is constantly looking for ways to do things better. His professionalism and passion for his work is inspiring and made me the chef I am today.
5. Was it tough being the only female pastry cook on the team at Payard’s New York City patisserie?
Of course! There wasn’t even a separate locker room for women because all the other cooks were men. However, I know that I needed to be as tough (at least mentally) as the men even though I was the only female pastry cook.
6. Do you believe female chefs do not earn enough recognition as compared to their male counterparts?
I never really think about that and I don’t believe so. I would like to think that Chefs are judged by their capability to cook, not by gender.
7. What drew you to return to Singapore?
My husband is a Singaporean, and after being overseas for 10 years, we both thought it’s the right time to move back to Asia.
8. Is there an exotic local fruit you would like to work with?
I love working with mango, coconut, jack fruit and passion fruit. Local fruits have very distinctive flavour profiles.
9. What was the first dessert you made? Was it a success or disaster?
The first dessert that I made was a brownie. It was a success, and it gave me the confidence to continue experimenting even more. I remembered that the brownie was rich, chewy, and chocolatey with a ton of nuts.
10. What is your prediction for 2017’s next big dessert trend?
I think frozen desserts with fewer additives and more natural ingredients will see more interest. In our tropical weather, ice cream shops will never go out of business.