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(Left) Pecan Miso Brown Butter Cookie (Right) Maira Yeo.

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(Left) Dessert creation by Shirlyn Song. (Right) Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

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DIY dessert kit.

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(Left) Shirlyn Song. (Right) Maxine Ngooi.

Pastry chefs go solo

Three female pastry chefs move out of fine dining restaurants to bake their own things
Jun 19, 2020 5:50 AM

MAIRA YEO

Earlier this year, Maira Yeo was in Oslo, preparing to take up a job as pastry chef at the two Michelin-starred Norwegian restaurant Maaemo, when the global pandemic scuppered her career plans. With visa issues that arose because of Covid-19, she had to return to Singapore, where she got the idea to make baked goods to sell for charity while serving out her Stay-HomeNotice (SHN). Chef Yeo, who was the pastry chef at one Michelin-starred Meta in Singapore for three years before leaving to spend a year travelling and staging at restaurants overseas, is now wowing local dessert lovers with a small range of artisanal cookies and cakes that she sells through Instagram. Most of the money she makes goes to Covid-19-related causes such as migrant worker support programmes and other groups in need.

Since she started, the response to her Crackly Chocolate Brownie and Pecan Miso Brown Butter cookies, Olive Oil Lemon Loaf and Financiers has been overwhelming, although she reckons the charity element has been the main driver. But that hasn’t stopped the flood of praise her bakes are getting on social media. She caps her orders at 80 cookies a day because of her kitchen size, with the bestseller being the Crackly Chocolate Brownie aka CCB cookies. “Some of the recipes are adapted and tweaked, and some are adapted from places I have staged at, like the buckwheat financier from Patisserie Patrice.”

While she doesn’t know what the future holds for her even as restaurants start to reopen from June 19, she still hopes to return to Norway if she can. Otherwise, “If push comes to shove, I would much prefer to do pop ups instead, for my own personal income.” While she does take a small profit from her charity bake sales to keep her going, she doesn’t feel right about switching it to a purely for-profit business.

Still, her heart lies in plated desserts, and her dream is “to have a style that’s a cross between Chef Patrice Demers and Chef Francisco Migoya”. She would also love to open a dessert bar, although “I don’t think it’s very feasible from a business standpoint”. Until she decides on her next step, now’s the time to enjoy her bakes while we can.

To order, go to the IG handle: @maira.yeo

MAXINE NGOOI

When Maxine Ngooi tendered her resignation at the one Michelin-starred Vianney Massot restaurant in the early days of the pandemic, she had no idea that the restaurant would eventually close for good as the first high-profile casualty of the muchbattered F&B industry. “My plan was to travel and stage at different restaurants for a few months, to broaden my knowledge outside of French pastry,” she explains. But of course, the crisis brought her plans to a halt.

Despite having no formal culinary training (she studied commerce in university), Chef Ngooi was taken under the wing of awardwinning pastry chef Cheryl Koh of the three Michelin-starred Les Amis, where she was part of the opening team for the pastry shop Tarte. She went on to Australia to stage at restaurants such as Brae, and returned to work at the now defunct Joel Robuchon restaurant in Sentosa for two years, where she met Chef Massot. She continued to make an impression with her meticulously plated desserts at Vianney Massot until her resignation.

Currently, “I am working on a new project that would enable me to helm a standalone pastry concept, but in the meantime I’m helping my mother with sharing our family’s Eurasian and Peranakan food within our circle. It’s a fairly new venture which my mum – who is of Portuguese-Eurasian descent – started to gift friends with a warm meal during Circuit Breaker. The response has been great and people were asking to order from us. As a pastry chef, I’ve been tasked with baking sugee cake, from a recipe that has been passed down for generations.”

Also, if you want a taste of her plated desserts, Chef Ngooi is collaborating with FatCat Ice Cream Bar on a DIY plated dessert kit that can be assembled at home. “I’ve come up with a special ice cream flavour and curated the different components that will all go into the dish,” she says. There will be a livestream on FatCat’s Instagram to demonstrate how to plate it, “but the idea is also to encourage people to be creative”.

While she’s used to a fine dining environment with access to the best produce and craftsmanship, “collaborations like these remind me that dessert should be fun and accessible”.

While everyone is hoping for things to look up during phase two, “I believe there are people like me who are appreciative of getting a small break, and being able to work on projects we’ve always wanted to try but never had the time to.”

To order, go to IG handle @maxywax or @fatcatsg

SHIRLYN SONG

When Shirlyn Song was working in the pastry section of the two Michelin-starred Waku Ghin under the exacting eye of head pastry chef Yasushi Ishino, one of her biggest moments came when chef-owner Tetsuya Wakuda tasted her homemade Basque burnt cheesecake and gave it the thumbs up.

That cake is now one of her bestsellers in her pop up pastry shop at Boufe Boutique Cafe, where she and several other chefs affected by the pandemic have been selling takeaway food for the past couple of months to supplement their incomes.

Chef Song’s menu comprises rustic style cakes such as the cheesecake, Valrhona chocolate cake as well as banana chocolate chip bread. She also serves up a savoury menu of Peranakan specialities such as chicken rendang and mee siam.

After her stint in Waku Ghin, she took up a head pastry chef position at Gallery & Co in the National Gallery so she could learn more about managing other aspects of F&B operations.

That was until April 7, when operations were suspended because of circuit breaker measures.

The idea for the pop up came from her husband, a shareholder and head chef of Boufe Boutique Cafe (which closed down for good because of the crisis but is continuing as a pop up until the end of June). “It was his idea to gather some chefs who were unable to go to work because of the crisis. He wanted to create a kind of ‘pasar malam’ with a large variety of food which might create some interest. It was also a chance for us to earn some money for daily needs instead of waiting for subsidies.” While she is still attached full time to Gallery & Co, it had called for a three month suspension from April and allowed its staff to find temporary work or even find a new job. For Chef Song, she decided to use the pop up to gain exposure and feedback on her skill. So far, the response has been encouraging especially for her cheesecake which is her own creation and is lighter than most versions.

The pop-up will end on Jun 30 but “we are planning to work something else out, maybe an online business or something but everything is too uncertain at this point”.

In the meantime, she is enjoying what she does, even if the income isn’t stable. She gets to work with her husband every day while working with other chefs offers a strong sense of camaraderie. “We’re like a family.” And if you and your family like cake, hers are well worth a try.

To order, go to boufesg.com under Boufe’s Pastry Bar and Madam Song Peranakan