Meet 6 Women Who Are Rising Stars in Singapore’s Food Scene
In an industry that is largely male-dominated, being a female in F&B requires grit – in spades.
Text: Meryl Koh, Art Direction: Fazlie Hashim, Photos: Tan Wei Te
ALL ABOUT COMMITMENT
Quek Sue-Shan, founder, SPRMRKT
Not many first-time restaurateurs would dive headfirst into a three-in-one concept that comprises a restaurant, retail and art. But Quek Sue-Shan’s vision for SPRMRKT was to redefine the supermarket and restaurant experience. Together with her partner, executive chef Joseph Yeo, the pair launched SPRMRKT in McCallum Street in 2012 after planning for five years. Though Quek recalls how people would walk right past the shop, or ask if they were new even after a year in, those days are over. Earlier this year, SPRMRKT won the bid to work with STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, thanks to their similar focus on art. This two-storey outlet at Robertson Quay features a casual deli’s concept on the first floor, and a spiffier kitchen and bar that dishes out modern cuisine woven with local ingredients on the upper floor.
“The F&B industry might be filled with more men, but I have no qualms dealing with them. I happen to think I’m quite a tomboy,” jokes Quek. “It’s not necessarily more challenging being a girl either, because this industry is all about commitment.” The 36-year-old is also working on revamping Kite, the group’s comfort food-tapas concept in Craig Road. After the makeover, Kite will be a contemporary Asian restaurant.
NOT A COOKIE CUTTER
Petrina Loh, chef-owner, Morsels
There are quite a few things for which you would depend on Morsels’ chef-owner, Petrina Loh. Dishing out delicious food, for one thing. Another would be fixing broken plumbing. “There are a lot of things that go behind running a restaurant, besides just cooking good food,” says Loh. She honed her chops in Michelin-star restaurants like Spruce and Bouchon in the Bay Area, in the US.
Since starting Morsels in 2013 with her former business partner, Bryan Chia, the 34-year-old has constantly been mistaken for being a pastry chef – a role she has no interest in, given her lack of a sweet tooth. With Chia having left the business eight months back, Loh is flying solo and putting Morsels on the fast track. This means a menu revamp, with more fermented elements starring in dishes, as well as an entirely new team. As sole captain, Loh has also taken on a mentorship role, and she hopes to nurture these young talents. “ In America, chefs get more exposure to ingredients than their counterparts here. I would like to be that person to expose (these young chefs) to more things and build their repertoire,” says Loh.
Cushnie Et Ochs halter dress, from Outnet.com. Ring, from Etro.
HOLD NO PUNCHES Gina Kent and Bannie Kang (next), head craftsman and assistant head craftsman, Anti:dote
Gina Kent, the new head bartender at the Anti:dote bar in Fairmont Singapore, has an exacting eye for detail – thanks to her former job as a theatre costume designer. The self-proclaimed night bird made a career change to work as a bartender as it allows her to stay up late, while expressing her creativity through fancy cocktails.“The way you can use different ingredients, and even make your own ingredients, while talking to people and finding the right drink for them, is what satisfies me,” she says.
“When I started, I felt it was a bit more difficult for me to be taken seriously,” adds Kent, on the challenges being a female bartender. Her experience at top bars around New York and Los Angeles has certainly shaped her confidence. These days, she’s not shy to let her whimsicality shine through in cocktails, such as a tequila-based drink with homemade violet liqueur and black rosemary shrubs that is a fine balance of delicate and intense.
HOLD NO PUNCHES Gina Kent (prev) and Bannie Kang, head craftsman and assistant head craftsman, Anti:dote
At Anti:dote, Kent is supported by assistant bartender Bannie Kang. The soft-spoken South Korean might still be a tad shy around guests, but you’ll never guess it from the punch her drinks deliver. In 2014, she was the only woman to make it among the top three in the Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore finals, considered one of the most prestigious bartending competitions in the world.
Polyester jumpsuit, polyester pants and silk embellished organza blouson, from Emporio Armani.
SMOOTH OPERATOR Manuela Toniolo, restaurant manager, Cheek by Jowl
By now, most would have heard of modern Australian restaurant Cheek by Jowl in Boon Tat Street, run by Sri Lanka-born chef Rishi Naleendra. Yet, the chef would be the first to tell you credit for a smooth dinner service goes to his wife and restaurant manager, Manuela Toniolo. With 13 years of experience in the F&B industry, the 31-year-old runs a tight ship by making sure the kitchen hears – and delivers on – the orders being called.
“To me, being a diner is more than just eating good food. It’s also how you experience the food, the ambience, and how staff make you feel welcome,” she says. Toniolo’s formula must be working. While diners previously could call in for a 7.30pm seating, the restaurant’s rapidly growing fan base means they now have two seatings: at 6.30pm and 8.30pm. And the best bit: She’s still the only one of the husband-wife duo who knows how to ring and cash out the till.
her) Wool cape dress, from Salvatore Ferragamo.
SWEET TASTE OF WINNING Fiona Ting, group pastry chef, Artichoke, Bird Bird and Neh Neh Pop
Don’t mistake Fiona Ting for a sweet young thing. The 26-year-old describes herself as rebellious. “I like to win. I try to be humble, but there is a part of me where I have to be better than you. This comes out in my food,” says Ting, who judges the success of her creations by observing customers’ body language when they eat her food. Take her latest creation, a durian softie pie that's made with real durian flesh, creme patisserie, broken almond crust and brown butter soft serve. It was inspired by New York’s acclaimed Momofuku Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. The fact that the sweet treat sold out at the recent Savour Wines event in September 2016 was a sure sign of success in Ting’s books.
Though she started as a pastry chef in Artichoke, Ting’s one and a half years in marketing also opened her eyes to the importance of meeting people and being sociable. “When you’re a chef, all you can see is the four walls (of the kitchen) and whether a customer likes your food or not,” she says. “Marketing and PR opened me up to meeting people and not being awkward. It taught me the importance of friendships and collaborations.”