A heart for heritage

A heart for heritage

At her cooking school in Chip Bee Gardens, Ms Shermay Lee is clearly in her element. She stands behind the spotless, stainless-steel kitchen counter, cutting minced pork spread thinly into neat rectangles on a baking tray.

She transfers them onto a paper-lined baking tray. Into a hot oven they go and within minutes, a savoury, appetising smell fills the kitchen.

Soon, the friends who have popped by to visit are enjoying the fruits of her labour - hot bak kwa fresh out of the oven - and murmuring with pleasure.

This is a new venture for Ms Lee, 39, cookbook author, cooking school owner and instructor, and food consultant.

She is developing her own line of heritage sauces and marinades under the Shermay's Singapore Fine Food label.

In December, she will launch four products - three versions of the bak kwa or barbecued pork marinade - original, chilli and sesame, and Cilicuka, a chilli and vinegar dip - at her school and online.

The Cilicuka is her grandmother's recipe, indispensable in popiah, kueh pie tee and chicken rice, among many other dishes. Judging by the taste of the bak kwa, with its lightly charred edges and gentle sweetness, she might have a winning product on her hands. A lot of research has gone into the marinades and the cooking processes are still being refined.

She wants to be able to tell home cooks exactly how many times to stir the minced pork with the marinade to get the best "QQ" or springy texture. Currently, 40 times clockwise seems to work best, although that could change.

Shermay's Singapore Fine Food is her way of taking her business to the next level and ensuring that it thrives, while staying true to her passion for preserving Singapore's heritage recipes, reviving forgotten dishes and teaching people to make them at home.

Survival is also on her mind.

Speaking in a rapid-fire way, she says: "For 11 years, we have taught one class at a time. Operating expenses in Singapore are so high, we have to scale up or die. We are breaking even, marginally profitable, but I need to do something that will take me to the next level."

It seems the logical step for her.

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