PROFILE: Cheryl Koh, Les Amis — “A good dessert has the undeniable ability to make people smile.”

We love our sweets. Be it in a molten chocolate lava cake, or a trendy basque burnt cheesecake, there’s always room for dessert. But making these treats are often difficult for untrained hands. It all comes down to careful planning, utter discipline, and a whole lot of time spent in the kitchen. 

Portrait of Chef Cheryl Koh
Credit – Les Amis Group

Though when it comes to all things dessert, Cheryl Koh is queen. Having earned the title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016, her accolades are nothing short of impressive. We visited Tarte by Cheryl Koh just recently to experience a Premium Korean Strawberry Afternoon Tea set, where we stuffed ourselves silly with a plethora of pastries, tarts, and of course, strawberries. 

Image of Afternoon Strawberry Tea Set
Credit – Les Amis Group

Yet, there’s always more than meets the eye. Past the bonny servings of puffs and mini croissants, what we don’t see is the work that goes on in the kitchen to make these dishes. We speak to Cheryl about her journey as a pastry chef, and some of her personal favourite local desserts.

Basil: What excites you the most about pastry-making?

Chef Cheryl Koh: I do love to work with premium ingredients and exotic fruit when I get the chance. That being said, I am equally excited to have the opportunity to transform simple ingredients like flour, milk, cream, sugar, chocolate, or fresh fruits into desserts that bring joy and comfort to people. A good dessert has the undeniable ability to make people smile.

As someone who has been in the F&B industry for a long time, how do you see the rise in home-based bakeries fitting into Singapore’s already saturated dessert scene?

I think it’s great that more people are interested in pastry making, and that in challenging times like these, people turn to activities such as cooking and baking, which are not only good life skills but also an excellent outlet for relaxing and destressing. It is definitely an activity that brings friends and family together.

If anything, I see the rise of home bakers as bringing more attention to the industry and also pastry making. When more people bake or cook from the heart, the world is better for it.

You’ve staged at Les Amis, Laserre, and Raffles Hotel. What’s the single most important lesson you’ve learned from working in these kitchens?

Image of Strawberry Tart from Tarte
Credit – Les Amis Group

Yes, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work full-time at Raffles Hotel, Lasserre and Les Amis. I learnt to adapt, persevere and be resilient no matter the situation.

What is the biggest misconception young chefs have about working in those storied establishments?

It really requires a lot more mental strength and motivation than you would think to thrive in a successful team. It is never is just about one person, but rather the team.

What, in your opinion, is the most underrated local dessert that deserves more recognition, and why?

Knowing Singaporeans and being Singaporean myself, we love our local desserts and I don’t think any dessert is underrated. Being a country that loves food, any mention of something refreshing, sweet, and comforting is enough to excite us. My personal local favourites are cheng tng, kueh dadar, and pandan chiffon cake.

Tarte by Cheryl Koh has recently partnered up with BRANDFIT to feature premium Korean strawberries in its newest afternoon tea set. What inspired this collaboration?

At Tarte, we are constantly sourcing high-quality fruits and produce and using them in our pastries whenever they are in season. Presenting the best fruits and ingredients of a particular season is a big part of our philosophy.

Shopfront of Tarte
Credit – Les Amis Group

I have been using premium Korean fruits for the past 2 – 3 years and find their quality to be excellent. When BRANDFIT sent me the Korean strawberries to try this year, I felt that they were of exceptional quality. Since Tarte has recently moved to a new space with a bigger dine-in area, I was planning to launch an afternoon tea set that was focused on the best seasonal fruits and flavours. Hence, this collaboration came at a perfect time as it fits in nicely with the progression of the restaurant.

What advice did you wish you were given when you were starting out as a pastry chef?

Interior of Tarte by Cheryl Koh
Credit – Les Amis Group

Thinking back on my past experiences and to the time I moved to France for work, I am reminded of this—be brave and dive into something you love doing. If it brings you joy, it can’t be wrong.