The brains behind Tarte explains why locals might not take the pressure of working in the kitchen, and how to inspire Millenials to pursue the culinary path. 

  • By Chelsia Tan
  • | Mar 24, 2016

Cheryl Koh, Singapore's pastry chef du jour, helms the eponymously-named bakery backed by the Les Amis Group and she has recently added the title of Asia's Best Pastry Chef (awarded to her by San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants list) to her belt. She tells us how she started her first culinary job armed only with degree in Geography and European Studies, what we can do to improve the local dining scene and her creative process in the kitchen. 

I love that working in the kitchen demands your whole self to be put into it, that it requires passionate, hardworking, dedication and resilient individuals to work as a team in order for it to work. That being a cook at this level is not a means to an end like what many people might think, but a career that requires only those who thrive and are suited for a life like this. My family was very supportive and they told be to just go and do my best.

I was never in a culinary school, so it took me a lot of courage and resilience to catch up on the fundamentals about baking. After I graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a degree in Geography and European Studies, I went straight to Raffles Hotel for a job in the kitchen, before moving to Paris.

Lasserre is a Parisian institution; so needless to say, there is some sort of hierarchy, pressure and discipline there. I loved the staff meals at the restaurant, mastering a new language, meeting new people, taking the late night bus home after work, visiting the markets and being introduced to kitchen life in a culinary institution that has been around since after the second world war. However, I came back to Singapore after my stints around the world because my family is here and I missed home.

We are a city where we can eat well any time of the day, at every price point. I think we have every capacity and potential to grow and advance our culinary scene and continue to support, preserve and continue our local dining culture and food.

I hope to continue to eat well and give full support to our local hawkers and markets, and also see more young, motivated and passionate people learn to cook and work in the kitchen. However, it is a challenging trade to be in and not many locals might be able to endure the long hours.

What we can do is to hone talents from a younger age to open their eyes about how diverse this art can be. Every two years, the Les Amis Group organizes an inter-institution Culinary Challenge where each school will send their best representatives to compete. The competition format is tailored to the real-world scenario and judged by renowned chefs and professionals, and the winner will get an all-paid trip to Europe to dine at Michelin star restaurants. 

I’m also glad Singapore is getting more recognition worldwide, including this year’s Michelin guide which I believe will spur the culinary scene to work even harder on a global scale and also attract more passionate individuals.

Food history and stories inspire me. I generally like to read food encyclopedias such as Larousse Gastronomique. Every time I create something, I think about where, for example, the fruit is from, or what stories center around that fruit, among other things.