You can take a woman out of Singapore but you can never take the Singaporean out of her – and that’s not such a bad thing, according to London-based Singaporean chef Cherish Finden. “I’m very kiasu lor,” says the executive pastry chef at UK’s prestigious The Langham Hotel, who moved to the UK 15 years ago. This competitive nature has led Finden on her continuous drive for new conquests, including more than 25 medals from global cooking competitions and numerous other culinary awards that have dotted her career.
From an 18-year-old waitress in Singapore, the Shatec graduate worked her way up the ranks in the kitchens of iconic hotels such as the Sheraton Towers Singapore and the Raffles Hotel, where she met one of her culinary mentors and Singapore’s foremost food personality, Peter Knipp. “He was so strict in the kitchen, but I was a tough cookie myself. He said my desserts weren’t good enough, so I proved myself by winning the Dessert of the Year award by the UK Association of Pastry Chefs in 2001. He said my petit fours wouldn’t pass muster, so I went out and won eight gold medals for petit fours,” she says, laughing.
Today, as the leader of a 14-strong pastry section at The Langham, she makes sure she’s strict but fair. Not a sound can be heard in her kitchens during the morning crunch time, but, when all the food has been sent out, the music comes on. She also rewards the loyal and the hardworking with promotions and overseas training stints.
The head chef of Conrad Tokyo’s China Blue restaurant dishes out avant-garde Chinese cuisine for diners in Asia’s most demanding food capital. But Albert Tse isn’t daunted. In fact, the Singaporean PR has done it with so much aplomb that he clinched the Escoffier title of “Culinary Art Master” in 2006. He also helped the restaurant snag a star in Tokyo’s Michelin Guide for six consecutive years, from 2007 to 2012. “Everything is about freshness when it comes to cooking in Tokyo. The vegetables, meat, fish – even the sauces. So the key to cooking in Japan is to elevate the freshness of the ingredients,” observes Tse, who moved to Singapore when he was 21.
He worked at top restaurants such as Lei Garden, Tunglok Group’s Club Chinois and Four Seasons Hotel’s Jiang-Nan Chun restaurant, before relocating to Tokyo a decade ago. It was in Singapore that he picked up regional nuances in his native Cantonese style of cooking by learning to eat and savour Thai, Indonesian and other cuisines. “My style has become truly Asian,” he says.
“Constant innovation is something my team is trained to do in China,” says Edward Voon, the head chef of modern European restaurant Le Pan in Tianjin’s Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club Hotel, a prolifi c playground for celebrities, nobility and politicians. Before moving to China in 2010, Voon, who trained at Spanish chef Paco Roncero’s two- Michelin-star restaurant, was making waves in Singapore for the molecular cuisine he sent out at restaurants such as the Tower Club’s Atlantic Dining Room and nowdefunct Aurum in Clarke Quay.
And, while authentic Singaporean hawker fare is something he wish he could have on his global travels – chef Voon also plays personal chef to the hotel’s jet-setting billionaire owner, Pan Sutong – there is one part of Singapore that always travels with him. He says in jest: “I have subconsciously brought our working culture to Hong Kong and China; my team works very much like how we do in Singapore, no matter what nationality they are. The competitive environment I was used to in Singapore has also helped me persevere during difficult periods overseas.”
(header image credit: The Straits Times)