Paul Chia, Corporate Executive Chef at the famous “Violet Oon”
Paul Chia, Corporate Executive Chef at the famous “Violet Oon” in Singapore, founded by Violet Oon, the Grande dame of Singaporean cooking and widely considered to be an authority on Asian cuisine, specialising in Nyonya food.What drove you to become a chef?
I was inspired at my dad’s restaurant since I was 10, to see chefs cooking and serving food. Running around with (I don’t know what purpose those days) only purpose to dish out the food that was always ordered by guests such as braised pork belly with taro, steam red snapper with salted vegetables, braised yellow noodles with fresh oyster etc…
Where did you learn to become a chef?
I learnt my trade from Ku Su Shin Choong Hung, The Federal Territory and Selangor Restaurant and Chef Association, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia.
In 1999 you started to work in a Thai restaurant. What was the major difference for you compared to the Chinese kitchen?
It directs me to eat and taste chili every single day (from dried ones to pungent fresh chilies).
Can the Chinese and Thai dishes can be combined as fusion dishes? And if so, would you have some examples?
Yes, definitely can do. I did it when I was still a cook back then. Here are some examples: Chilled tossed jelly fish with Nam Yam (garlic chili vinaigrette), Fluffy yam patties with Gai Phad Med Mamuang (stir-fried chicken breast with cashew nut), Wok seared Yellow Croaker fillet and King Prawn with Tomyam Risotto.
Later you worked with Star cruises Asia as a chinses chef. What was your first impression of the gigantic kitchen and “hundreds” of chefs? Was there any room for creativity; or was it just like “factory work”?
The first cruise working experience was basically a massive food serving chain with 2000++ passengers that I was dealing with; day and night without even thought of stopping somewhere for a breath. Creativity is zero when cost is controlled at 100% force.
In 2006 you did head up the Malaysian food festival Sponsored by Malaysian Airlines. What did you serve/ cook?
On that year of Malaysia food promotion, I clearly remembered I served the full range of Malaysia delicacies which is a mixed of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines in it.
Form 2004 – 2007 your worked as Sous Chef at the Hiltion in KL and in charge for the whole of Chinese banqueting. How hard was this job; and what did you learn out of this time?
This was the most promising part of my career that I’ve applied until presently. With Hilton KL, I grown with the Chinese banquet kitchen team from a production-based chef to a managerial-level of chef that formed myself today. Back then, I was handling all necessary documentation to sanitation, ordering of produces to checking tardiness of team members, coordinating banquet events to communicating to entire operations to related personnel in -charge or involved. It means a lot to me that you slept 2 out of 6 nights in the grand ball room during the grand opening of the property.
In 2011 you became the Executive Sous Chef at the Shangri-La in Shenzen. This job is related to lot of organisation and planning. Was there still time for you to cook?
Yes, with Shangri-La Shenzhen, I planned once of Malaysia food promotion, Shanghai theme night promotion that was cooked by me (consecutively 2 weeks).
As Shenzen is a relatively young city; is the local kitchen mainly related to those of Hong Kong?
As chef worked in Shenzhen before, there was not much of Hong Kong cooks/chefs resources and most of it are from sub-provincial part of Guangdong province.
Later you worked as Executive Chef in Nanjing and Guangzhou at the Hilton. Was there any room for local dishes, new experiments, your own cooking?
Yes, there are plenty of menus (wedding, special events, ADD, buffet operations) that you will have to PLAN YOUR LOCAL MENU at your best to suit local market with a tweak of epicurean.
Back to the cruise again, you worked as Executive chef at the Norwegian Cruise line with 4900 guests on board and also leading 272 chefs to serve multi-ethnic cuisines. Is this job still a chef or more a manager job?
I will say this is more to a managing job where I was to make sure the entire culinary preparation work has been carried out according to NCL standards suiting China cruise market perusal. Serving massive amount of guests has taught me in all aspect while running a F&B establishment with your formation of resources globally
Lately you started as Corporate Executive Chef at the famous “Violet One” in Singapore. The restaurant was founded by Violet Oon, the Grande dame of Singaporean cooking and is widely considered to be an authority on Asian cuisine, specialising in Nyonya food. She started as journalist, and with her own cooking show at TV.: So isn’t a dream job for you; after such a long journey as a chef in so many places; to be back at the high level restaurant with long tradition and famous roots?
Yes, this is very true indeed. I felt like being pampered in this organization where I can learn again the ultimate Asian cooking with Chef Violet and work under her vision by sharing my global exposure.
The Violet Oon is showcasing Singapore’s culinary treasures and heritage from Nyonya, Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines. A culinary treasures and heritage sounds like only traditional dishes are served: In which sense do you bring in new dishes; please give us some examples.
I have not brought in any new dishes to its present restaurants but we are planning our expansion within the year another new concept of the company that serves only best Singapore food and be next Singapore gift merchandising to once again, served Singapore to the world.
Singapore is a great place for food, with such a variety of different, innovative and high quality food: Does it puts lots of pressure to you as a chef to be even more innovative?
This marks like a sword of two-sided blades. To the nation level of concern, it is. The country needs vibrant, stylish, trendy food footage that suited the culture but not to forgetting its’ beginning and origin from colonial days to present handy-mobile era
Some of the street food and food courts in Singapore supply top quality dishes as well. Do you see this as competition?
Not really, food courts served its perfection with limited sources while we served the heritage yet lavish style of culinary and not to forgetting the tribute behind all dishes created by Chef Violet herself
What is the latest trend in Singapore’s kitchen / chef scene?
Chef walks into public.
Lots of young EU reopen chefs would like to work for some time in Singapore. What would be your recommendation to them: start in a big hotel group or better in a smaller restaurant?
I would recommend these young chefs to start with good decent restaurants in Singapore compared to hotel.
Is it difficult to get a working permit for a chef in Singapore?
No, not really; 80% of Singapore chef work-force are made up of foreigners.