JR Yoong – Chef in Singapore
JR Yoong: “A well planned plate of food is not only about the combination of flavours. The cooking techniques, cuts, smell and even appearance plays a part in careful planning. Basics when done well are irreplaceable taste.”
When did you first discover your creativity in the kitchen?
When I was young, I used to help my mother with home cooking and groceries shopping. Also learned from her how to pick fresh ingredients from the market, especially seafood because she grew up in a fishing village.
Which cooking school did you visit?
Is there an anecdote that distinguishes you as a trainee chef?
When I was in school doing practical lesson on onion soup, my mentor out of curiosity ask if I added sugar into my soup because I sweat it too well that time I suppose? Haha! Due to my performance, passion and perseverance, I was guided to competitions by him who taught me countless skills and knowledge. Also, patience where I’ve learned from him, used his teaching ways in my career and they helped me a lot.
While applying for an internship in Goodwood Park Hotel, I was told that their fine dining grill restaurant is opening their doors to take in trainee again after quite some time. Was happy that I got selected. After joining, that’s when negative inputs start to challenge me again. You get to hear words and advises from everywhere: “Do you know you can’t earn much from this career; you won’t get to celebrate holidays and weekends with your friends and families; this restaurant is very tiring and difficult to work in.” But passion pushed me through.
I was being taught the hard way by him who I once dislike (to be honest), who pushed me too much beyond limit. But I wouldn’t be who I am today without his guidance. Now I realize that he was actually training me, I’m very grateful to him.
Efforts didn’t go to waste and were being recognized. Putting me in most events the hotel has and working with guest chefs like Chef Andre Chiang, Sat Bains, Jason Atherton & Kim Palhus gave me great experiences, motivation and confidence to climb up the ladder more steadily.
JR Yoong – Cook with heart, be humble and honest!
You have worked in various famous restaurants in Asia – what was your most formative experience?
A place where it allows me to change the kitchen layout, menus and recreate in a tight and competitive environment where our competitor is just opposite of use and were already doing well with their own regular customers. Although it was only for 2 months, we made tremendous improvements in terms of sales and the increment of patrons.
Another place is in The Study and The Library which improved my PR confidence with guest and the deeper knowledge in management skills.
After so many different experiences as a cook – How would you describe your cooking style today?
Fusion. In Singapore, it is important to have a mixture of flavours to have a twist in the end product. I am trained in Western base, so incorporating Western presentation into local food is a norm to me. I use spice in curing mix and skills of Chinese and Japanese into my food. After-all, it wasn’t that difficult if a chef knows their basics well and to derive into new textures and flavours according to one’s style.
Flavours, textures and colours are important in creating a plate. How we plate every individual component plays a big part in telling our consumers to eat it correctly with the right flavours we wanted them to experience. All in all, to produce good cooking, a person must cook with heart, be humble and honest. I’m sure consumers can feel the love and passion in it, magically it becomes nice. Just like how we always miss home cooking from our love ones.
What dish you have created are you most proud of, and why?
Nothing yet to be. We are always learning and improving ourselves. Changes occur every day.
You worked as a trainer at the famous Shatec Institute (The Shatec Story) – what was your experience during that time?
SHATEC was set up in 1983 by the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) to ensure a continuous pipeline of talents for Singapore’s hospitality industry.
Being back to the school where I trained my mind set and which led me to culinary competitions to strive further and excel. I have more to give back helping the new generations shine and to find their strengths and polish them. Handling students aren’t as easy as what we think compared to our kitchen staffs. Especially, given our economy status and competitive environment here in my country, there are different stress you will have to face. Not just teaching students who are here to passionate to stay in this industry, there’s more to the job. Keeping a food cost of 20% in a training restaurant was an achievement at that time, having students who are first time in a restaurant serving customers won’t make the job any better. It could be more hectic as well compared to working in a restaurant outside, monthly returns weren’t as great too.
Getting a Hawker stall at Singapore – is it difficult?
Not in general. Process is straight forward. One big challenge faced is the there’s too many people applying for stalls, rentals and bidding are increasing at the same time. Which makes your monthly costing higher and you still have to sell at hawker prices.
Does the fusion kitchen play any role in your work?
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
Japan. They have pleasant culture, citizens are taught to respect and appreciate. Fresh ingredients are used and processed by delicate skills which wouldn’t destroy their original taste. Which I find it very important, “a lamb must taste like a lamb” if the meat is fresh.
Thank you, JR Yoong!