A Work Week With Chong Koo Jee, Pastry Chef, SKAI
What does it take to be the pastry chef at one of Singapore's hottest dining spots? Find out below.
Monday’s Quote: “Just as cherry, plum, peach and damson blossoms all possess their own unique qualities, each person is unique. We cannot become someone else. The important thing is that we live true to ourselves and cause the great flower of our lives to blossom.” – Daisaku Ikeda
Fine Tuning & Harmony
While Monday is the start of the week for the majority, for me, it is a day to recollect and fine tune my learnings. Mondays are when I will review the previous weeks’ results and explore what can be improved. Most of my discussions are with Paul Hallett, Executive Chef of SKAI, where we discuss many aspects of our operations from service to the ingredients used and the curated dishes on the menu. This is essential as it helps us stay true to our goal, which is to deliver a memorable culinary experience unlike any other.
I will also have a sit-down session with our pastry team to review day-to-day operations and feedback on the pastries. The consistent analysis of the flavour profiles and techniques used are crucial for us to deliver a menu with our signature touch. Next, the attention is directed to the grooming team. I am very fortunate to have a creative, hardworking and passionate team. By ensuring that the team strives at a similar wavelength, it allows me to spearhead the creative process while nurturing the talented individuals.
I wrap up the day with a daily portion of my training, which spans from the most basic creation of flavours to the construction of larger scale pieces in the form of sugar, chocolate or other ingredients that I am experimenting with.
Tuesday’s Quote: “Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise. It was expected of me. It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task.” – William H. McRaven
Tuesday mornings are similar to all other mornings where we prepare for restaurant service. I believe that the daily grit is crucial as it helps to set the ground work of our standard for perfection. The greater half of the day is spent in teams of 2 to 3, where some will polish a particular skill while others explore a different technique to portray SKAI’s pastries. Time is spent in individual groups where skills and knowledge are passed down – it all begins with fundamentally understanding the unique attributes of the ingredients and processes.
Training resumes once again in the evening, much like how the hotel does not sleep – the pursuit for self-improvement does not stop either!
Wednesday’s Quote: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” –Henry David Thoreau
Exposure & Changing Perspectives
While the daily evening trainings are great for improving my craft, I believe it’s just as important to keep up with the chef community, modern technology and social media platforms to be exposed to the latest trends of consumers.
My involvement in the Coupe De Monde la Patissiere (World Pastry Cup) has been instrumental in helping me gain insights through numerous talented chefs from all over the world. Back in Singapore, I work closely with the team – Chef Kent, Chef Ben and Chef Francis to explore how we can use our creativity to showcase the sweeter and innovative side of Singapore to the world. Additionally, I am still in close contact with my friends from abroad where we regularly exchange valuable experiences an skills.
In the kitchen, I spend many hours debating, tasting and re-creating familiar taste profiles – it may be time consuming but the sense of accomplishment once the desired results have been achieved is well worth it.
Thursday’s Quote: “Traditions are our roots and a profile of who we are as individuals and who we are as a family. They are our roots, which give us stability and a sense of belonging - they ground us.” Lidia Bastianich
In the midst of all the modern technologies and ever increasing profiles of taste and insights, it is our roots that anchor us firm into the ground so that we may grow and blossom.
Thursday is the day that we go back to our roots to ensure that we have in-depth knowledge on all the produce we use, where we get them, the seasonality of the flavours, what our suppliers and farmers can achieve at different times of the year. We get in touch with what has brought us to where we are today, all in the midst of an evolving and ever changing food scene.
It’s important to remember that as chefs, our primary source of inspiration should lie in our gustatory senses and how we adapt them, instead of losing ourselves to technology and fancy gadgets.
Friday’s Quote: “Collaboration means innovation” Micheal Dell
The endless hum of culinary training and development has become an integral part of my routine. While the common factor of a good meal stays largely consistent, we need to take into account ways to adapt dishes to cater to different market groups. I ask myself: How do I elevate my creations? Can I make a cold dish smoke like a grill? Can I further enhance the taste profiles of my dishes, with better sourced or natural products?
On Fridays, I focus on pushing the boundaries of my craft by asking myself challenging questions. The heart of innovation is as much the thought and concepts behind the food, as it is the collaboration that moves it.