Sable tarts, choux pastries, verrines and chocolate petite gateaux make great desserts for fine dining experience. To the average consumer, these exquisite French pastries are very beautiful to look at and enjoy with friends and family. What about learning from an expert to make them on your own? On 19 August 2016, Chef Yong Ming Choong conducted a pastry masterclass, which was co-organised by e2i and Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. Eight chefs from various hotels signed up for this masterclass, which was a great opportunity for the participants to learn and to network with each other. e2i chatted with Chef Ming to find out more about his thoughts of being a pastry chef.
Tell us more about the masterclass that you are teaching today.
This is my first time conducting a masterclass for professional junior pastry chefs. Normally we organise small classes in the hotel for guests only. For today’s masterclass, I taught 2 types of sable tarts, 2 types of choux pastries and 2 types of verrines.
How did pastry making become a career for you?
I started making pastries when I was 18 years old. Before that, I was working at a Chinese restaurant. I am from Malaysia. When I first came to Singapore, there were no vacancies in the hotel for Chinese chefs. There were only pastry positions, so I went for it. It’s an interesting change because making pastries is so different from cooking Chinese cuisine. I think there is a lot to learn in pastry making, that’s why I carried on until now.
Did you have a mentor who taught French pastries?
Yes, I learnt about French pastries from Chef Steven Ong, who taught me a lot in the early days of my culinary career.
Chef Ming is presently the Executive Pastry Chef with Mandarin Oriental Singapore and has been working in the pastry industry for the past 19 years.
What is an average day like for a pastry chef?
Normally, I start at 10am, however if there are VIP breakfasts to serve, we will have to start earlier. Normally, at the hotel, I work for about 12 hours. I also plan the festive menus, which are our own creations. There is a constant need for an innovative culture, otherwise we will get rusty and be overtaken by others.
In your opinion, is there a difference when it comes to pastry making as a profession and pastry making as a hobby?
Yes there is. As a hobby, I just make the pastries and eat them, but when it comes to pastry making as a profession, I have a responsibility towards my guests. I have to make sure that the guests are happy and satisfied with the pastries I made.
You represented Singapore several times for the Lyon Coupe du Monde de la Patisseries (World Pastry Cup in France). Tell us more about the experience.
My first time at the Coupe was in 2005, where I was a member representing Singapore. I was really excited. I went to Lyon (France) for the competition. When I was there, the experience was very different from making pastries in Singapore, because over here you just work on a showpiece for festive periods. But over at the World Pastry Cup, it’s really more exciting because you get to rub shoulders with celebrated chefs and represent your country on an international stage. At the same time, it was very nerve-wrecking because there were so many pairs of eyes on you, the other chefs were so much better and everyone’s cheering them on, so it felt a little intimidating for me.
But I had a good experience, hence in 2007 and 2009, I participated again, but this time round, taking the role of a captain and manager for the Singapore team respectively. In January 2017, I will be taking a team to the Junior Pastry World Cup in Italy as a coach. The participants at the Junior Pastry World Cup are not more than 23 years old. All of them have F&B background and are currently working in hotels. In Singapore, pastry chefs start very late in their lives. In France, people become very good by 25 years old. Here, I observed that people only start to become pastry chefs at around 30 years old. This might be because of how senior chefs in this region are protective of their recipes and skills, whereas the westerners are more open and they share their craft openly. But it is starting to get better.
Are there skills or techniques that you want to learn in the future?
Yes, there are, there is so much to learn at work. I would like to go overseas to gain more experience. There are many good culinary schools overseas. I’m hoping to see more pastry master chefs coming to Singapore to teach the hotel chefs. I like how the cooking schools in Malaysia bring in very renowned chefs from countries like America, France to conduct these classes, and they come with a rich experience. This is something I felt lacking in Singapore. It’s very expensive for people to go and learn from these chefs; it can cost up to $900 a day. For example, I forked out $700 to attend a bread-making class by award-winning Chef Peter Yuen. It was not cheap, but definitely worthwhile. I’m hoping that in Singapore, we can have more opportunities to see how the best in the business make their culinary creations come to life and inspire others.