How Jeanette Ow when from accountant to pastry chef at Claudine
Quitting your job is so trendy right now.
In a global trend dubbed the Great Resignation Wave, nearly a quarter of Singapore workers plan to leave their current position in the first half of 2022, reflecting what is already happening in the United States and Europe since the start of Covid. Many cite a desire to do something more meaningful in their life.
Jeanette Ow is one of them, except she did it ten years ago. A promotion prompted the former accountant to turn to a passion she had from a young age: baking. She quits her job, enrolls in a cooking school and begins her career as a pastry chef.
Ow worked at Marina Bay Sands, Aura of Il Lido and Dempsey Cookhouse of Jean Georges, where she made desserts alongside much younger colleagues. Today, the 38-year-old overseas patisserie team at Claudine, the latest French restaurant from celebrity chef Julien Royer and one of Singapore’s hottest restaurants right now.
We talk to Ow about the start of a new career, why cookbooks shouldn’t be trusted completely, and his association with a local celebrity turned pastry chef.
“When I was about 10, I tried a muffin recipe at the end of my sister’s home economics textbook. I really failed because I didn’t follow the recipe. I added too much baking soda and it turned out very hard and very bitter. I thought, “How can I improve it? So I kept trying the recipe a few times until I got it right. This is how I got very interested in the science of baking. My mom also always instilled in us a sense of craftsmanship and the arts, so I think that came naturally as part of that.
“I was an accountant for four years (before becoming a pastry chef). My parents told me to get a professional certificate before I get into what I love to do. But I did not find fullness. Over time, I cooked on my days off, which I found to be very therapeutic. The turning point came when I was promoted. I didn’t feel happy at all. I said to myself: “Do I see myself as a partner in a business in 10 years? ” I did not mean it. I started to wonder what I really wanted in my life.
My colleagues were very young. I felt slower than them. But I persevered. If I did something wrong, I was like, ‘Okay, do it again until I get it right.’
“I took the plunge at the age of 29. I quit my job, went to Sydney and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. My parents could see that I was not satisfied, so they said to me, ‘Do what you want to do. We fully support you. They told me about the consequences of working in the kitchen, but I wanted to anyway. It’s about being clear about what you want at a given time and going for it.
“I came back to Singapore at the age of 30 and my first job was to work as a pastry chef in the central kitchen of Marina Bay Sands. My colleagues were very young. They started at 20 years old. I felt slower than them. My learning ability was different. But I had a never give up attitude. If I did something wrong, I was like, ‘Okay, do it again until I get it right.’ “
“At MBS, I learned to build desserts in mass production and to make them consistent. How to work smart given the space you have in certain environments. It was the same (when I worked as a pastry chef) at Aura. When they opened at the National Gallery, they had booked receptions, corporate events, and weddings for a few hundred people. We had to find a way to present the desserts well on the plate while keeping their consistency and quality. It’s a big challenge after long hours of work, but we didn’t compromise on the product.
“Claudine is beautiful and I have always wanted to make French pastries. I find that in Singapore, there are very few places that make good traditional French desserts. But people need to be able to understand them, that’s something I learned while working at Jean Georges. We have to connect with the customer, and then we elevate the experience.
Sometimes textbooks don’t teach you things about cooking. For example, the temperature of each oven is different. Don’t follow the book!
“Today’s diners are interested in complexity, but it still has to be accessible. They are also looking for something less sweet. I try to do this by incorporating textures and flavor into my desserts, following on from the main course. In our Paritérole, for example, we use pecans and sea salt flakes to add bitterness and flavor. We also need to understand where we are serving a dish. Because we live in a humid climate, I use vanilla ice cream in our Floating Island for a fresh texture on the palate. It makes you appreciate a dessert more.
“(Claudine’s guests often confuse me with Singaporean actress and pastry chef Jeanette Aw), which I find hilarious! In terms of style (pastry chef) it is not the same, but we share the same surname. The front of the house tells me that a lot of diners ask them, “Is this LA Jeanette Aw?” I said to them “Well, tell them I’m LA Jeanette Ouch”, and I would show them my face! I would love for her to come and I will introduce myself!
“I have been a pastry chef for 10 years now, and training at Cordon Bleu is only a small part of my life. I have the basics, but the hands-on experience of learning from each chef is much more important. Sometimes textbooks don’t teach you things about cooking. For example, the temperature of each oven is different. Don’t follow the book! One hundred and sixty (degrees Celsius) is not 160! If you know it’s a new oven, turn down 10 to 20 degrees. Also reduce the time. Even now, I still don’t understand ovens!
“If you are considering a career change, take a break first. Spend time alone, whether it’s mediation or a trip abroad. Think about what you really want. And go for it despite your fears or what people say about your dreams. As you go along the road, you may start to doubt your dream, but don’t give up. Ultimately, it is your heart that tells you what is right.
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