Ben Goh – InterContinental Singapore’s Pastry Chef
InterContinental Singapore’s pastry chef, Ben Goh, retells some of the challenges of making it in the world of pastry and shares what is it like to work in the context of South East Asia.
Ben Goh – Chef’s Portrait
“Stay humble and always keep a positive mindset.”
pictures: instagram @bengohbg
Ben, today you are a multi-award winning chef but there must be a story behind making it this far. How did you get into the industry to begin?
For as long as I can remember, my maternal grandmother baked Kueh Lapis (a local sweet) for friends and neighbours during Chinese New Year. When I was young, I would help her separate egg yolks from whites, measure out the sugar, and beat the butter. I would revel in the heady smells of the freshly baked cakes, but they were always given away before I could get a taste. I did all this without knowing that they were all part of the baking process, and when I did, I decided that I would be a professional pastry chef.
What was one of the biggest challenges you came across in continuing your path as a chef?
It is hard when you have to sacrifice spending time with the family for work, especially during festive seasons. Being part of the operational team means it is all hands on deck during crunch time. I constantly have to seek understanding from my family members for missing out on family events, vacations and even reunion dinners during Chinese New Year. Thankfully, they are very supportive of me and my career.
What are your ongoing struggles in the kitchen and in the food and beverage industry in general?
Managing costs and keeping overheads as low as possible without compromising on quality is definitely a challenge. In the Singapore market, labour is expensive and it can get quite difficult finding the right people to join your team. A good challenge is outdoing ourselves creatively. As a pastry chef, I like making food that is not only pleasing to the palate but also to the eyes. When I create something I really like, I always wonder how I can improve and one-up this creation.
Share with us one of your most memorable moments in the kitchen.
This would probably be the time when I had to prepare plated desserts for a dinner with 6,000 guests with my team of six. Preparation began a week in advance and just cutting the chocolate mousse into shape took two full working days. On the day of the dinner, we began plating the dessert from 7 am. Just as we had completed the entire process close to 9 pm, the banquet coordinator came up to me and said, “Chef, prepare to send out the desserts in five minutes.” We really made it just in time, and to date, that has been the most hectic and memorable day I’ve had at work.
In a hotel, you have a wide variety of international tastes to please. How do you attempt to do this?
I believe the key to this is to keep experiencing and experimenting. I keep myself inspired by the things I see around me. My travels in France inspired my Haute couture-themed competition pieces at the Mondial des Arts Sucres competition in March; going home to my native Kulai, Malaysia reawakens my desire to infuse local flavours into French pastries.
I constantly experiment with the different textures and flavour combinations of ingredients and try out new techniques such as molecular gastronomy. Some of the creations I’m proudest of are a result of experimentations and accidents in the workshop.
Many might perceive pastry cooking as primarily based on western or European cooking techniques. Can you tell us more about this?
Pastry making techniques are definitely European in nature, but the beauty of pastry is that it can evolve and become whatever the chef wants it to be simply by infusing different ingredients in it. For example, the chiffon cake has its origins in the west, but when local chefs infuse pandan extract into the cake to create the signature pandan chiffon cake that Singapore is known for, no one would say that it is a western pastry anymore. It all lies in what ingredients you use.
If there was one piece of advice you could give a wanna-be pastry chef, what would it be?
Stay humble and always keep a positive mindset. Only when you devote time to your craft can you perfect it, so don’t be afraid of hard work and put in more hours than required.
If you could make a pastry for anyone in the world, who would it be and what would you make?
I’d make it for my father. He was recently diagnosed with diabetes but he loves apple strudel so I’d like to make a sugar-free apple strudel for him.
Thanks a lot for your time, Ben!
Cooking is not just your job, but your passion?
Then present yourself and your skills with a free profile on Cook Concern.