Spotlight on the Female Chefs of Singapore

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar

Few Singaporean women have made a bigger culinary splash this decade than wunderkind chef Janice Wong, who was only 23 when she launched the critically acclaimed 2am:dessertbar in 2007 and who has been twice named “Asia’s Best Pastry Chef” by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. “I’m sure the second time was a fluke, because you’re not really supposed to win it twice in a row,” she claims.

Maybe, but Wong has built a burgeoning empire since opening 2am:dessertbar, a cool, contemporary hangout in Holland Village where staff pair wine and designer cocktails with such signature desserts as Cassis Plum, a blackcurrant bombe served with elderflower yogurt foam, plum liqueur, and yuzu rubies. At her 370-square-meter production facility, Wong and her small team of chocolatiers today make at least 1,500 chocolates per day, 365 days a year.

The demand stems partly from an influx of galas Wong curates for some of the world’s most iconic luxury brands, including Gucci, Dior, and Fendi. Many of these affairs feature Wong’s fanciful “edible art”: at one Tiffany and Co. launch party, for instance, she suspended 3,500 sugar “diamonds” over a miniature New York City skyline made of chocolate.

In her office, which is littered with white canvases splashed with a riot of color, Wong explained how she balances the linked, yet disparate elements of her meticulous culinary enterprises. “For desserts, it’s always flavor first; for chocolates, it’s always design first,” she says. “I realized that all the fashion brands care about is the color tone; all they want to see is how everything comes together. Of course, flavor has to be just as important to me.”

Production further increased after Wong branched out this year with her first overseas ventures—Cobo House by 2am:dessertbar in Hong Kong, and an eponymous dessert bar in Tokyo’s Newoman mall. “We have not expanded for eight years; we kept it at one, and focused on creativity, not on replication,” she says. “Now, we’re in our prime and moving forward. I feel very comfortable and confident about it.”

Karla Mendoza, Executive Chef at Pizzeria Mozza

Karla Mendoza, Executive Chef at Pizzeria Mozza

Over at Marina Bay Sands, meanwhile, Filipina chef Karla Mendoza has helmed Pizzeria Mozza since its debut in December 2010. She opened the original Mozza in Los Angeles as well, and is now the longest-tenured member of the team led by food magnates Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton, and Joe Bastianich. Speaking
at the pizzeria—packed at lunchtime on a Wed-nesday—the 45-year-old chef credits the restaurant’s enduring popularity to her staff’s focus. “For us, consistency over 700 diners, seven days a week, 365 days a year, is really difficult,” she says. “That’s the challenge of the pizzeria—it’s a machine that has to do the same food over and over again.”

Mendoza joined the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group with an impressive résumé that included stints at award-winning restaurants across New York, including Eleven Madison Park and the now-defunct Savoy. At what is arguably Singapore’s finest pizzeria—where she used to sleep overnight to oversee leavening dough—the chef still works 12 to 13 hours a day, balancing the management of more than 60 kitchen staff with her cooking passion. “I like the freedom, the adrenaline rush, the sweat, the hard work … that’s exhilarating to me,” she says. “I like the pressure. I thrive on it.”

 

Sabrina Stillhart, chef at Bread Street Kitchen Singapore

Sabrina Stillhart, chef at Bread Street Kitchen Singapore

Like Mendoza, Swiss chef Sabrina Stillhart has quickly worked her way to the top of a high-profile hospitality company making waves in Singapore. Since joining the Gordon Ramsay Group nearly a decade ago, Stillhart has logged time at London’s Savoy Grill and York & Albany, among others, and for three years was the senior sous chef at the original Bread Street Kitchen. Now, she’s executive chef at Bread Street Kitchen Singapore, which last year opened as one of the latest celebrity-chef collaborations with Marina Bay Sands. “Everyone has great expectations of Gordon Ramsay, and I like to live up to them as well,” she says.

The restaurant is part of a significant expansion of Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen brand, with other outlets for the modern British bistro landing in Hong Kong and Dubai. Practical and forthright in discussing her new leadership role in Singapore, Stillhart works long days, six days a week, and says she can’t get enough of it. “It’s not an easy industry—absolutely not—for anyone, male or female. But when you’ve got your heart, your love, and your passion inside, that’s all that matters.”

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