As the festive season of feasting stretches into Chinese New Year next year, Wan Hao restaurant's dim sum chef Loh Kah Poh wishes she could join in the merrymaking.
The Perak-born 44-year-old chef at the Singapore Marriott Hotel says in Mandarin: "Since I became a dim sum chef, I've not celebrated Chinese New Year."
Now a Singapore citizen, she moved here at the age of 15 to work as a waitress. Watching chefs make dim sum piqued her interest and she has worked her way through the ranks at various establishments, including Fook Yuen Restaurant, Carlton Hotel, The Regent Singapore and The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
Her 18-year-old daughter Jin Pei is likely to follow in her footsteps.
The teenager is selling health products and is thinking of going to culinary school. A year ago, she worked in the cold kitchen of The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
However, her mother hopes she will not specialise in Chinese cuisine.
Chef Loh says: "I would fully support her if she wants to be a chef too, but perhaps it's better to do Western cuisine, then she can celebrate Chinese New Year."
What was it like starting out as a young female chef in a male-dominated kitchen?
There was no pressure. In fact, the chefs doted on me and treated me like their little sister. I was also hard-working and would work until 2am every day. I had to help with chopping meat and vegetables.
What was the first dim sum item you learnt to make?
I had to learn to wrap siew mai. I can't remember how long I trained to make them perfect. You must have deft fingers.
What are your favourite dim sum items?
I've always loved to eat char siew pau, lo mai gai (steamed glutinous rice with chicken) and dai pao.
You return to Malaysia every two months. What are your must-eats?
Char siew pau, yu dan (fishballs in a curry gravy) and fen mian (a type of flour noodles). I like to eat frog legs too, but in Singapore, bull frogs are used to cook the dish. In Malaysia, they use the frogs from the padi fields, which taste different as the flesh has more bite.
In Singapore, where would you go for dim sum?
I would go to Chinese restaurant chain Imperial Treasure, Capella's Chinese restaurant Cassia and Taste Paradise in Ion Orchard.
What are your favourite desserts?
I like cheng tng, which is a sweet soup with ingredients such as white fungus, red dates, ginkgo nuts and lily bulbs; as well as black sesame paste.
How has dim sum remained relevant over the years?
It was common to eat dim sum filled with meat and prawn. Popular ingredients for dim sum now include truffles and wild mushrooms. One of my new items is deep fried yam paste with black truffle (available at Wan Hao restaurant until the end of the month). Not all unusual ingredients work, though. I tried using foie gras and it didn't taste good.
Tell us how you stay healthy.
I go on a vegetarian diet occasionally for health reasons. Plus, there's more variety of tasty vegetarian food nowadays. I go to Italian-inspired Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant Sufood at Raffles City, as well as Chinese restaurant chain Putien. I don't have supper as it's not healthy.
Have you had any kitchen disasters?
When water drops into hot oil and it sputters. This is always the most dangerous part for any chef. I've never been injured, but I have been in shock. More importantly, I need to make sure my face still looks fine.
What's always in your kitchen?
Fruit, fruit juice, eggs, red wine and Hershey's chocolate Kisses.
Tell us about your most memorable meal.
Eating along roadside stalls in South Korea six years ago. I ate everything from kimchi to sticky rice cakes. I also had the most fragrant and juicy apples.
This article was first published on Dec 14, 2014.
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