“Never miss any opportunity just because you are not ready.” Letters to my younger self: Chef Kelly Cheah, Tarte by Cheryl Koh

Chef Kelly, Head Chef of Tarte by Cheryl Koh

Singapore –  Oftentimes, all it takes to make a life-changing decision is to listen to your inner voice. Chef Kelly Cheah, the Head Chef of Tarte by Cheryl Koh can attest to that. 

Chef Kelly joined the team as a sous chef three years ago and has since gradually taken charge of the kitchen operations. She previously cut her professional teeth at  DB bistro and Joel Robuchon Singapore. She developed her pastry abilities under the tutelage of award-winning Chef Cheryl Koh. 

Her story is of perseverance and “never give up” attitude. “During the start of my career, I worked in the Michelin-starred restaurants, and coincidentally joined during the busiest period of the year, Christmas! Everyone was too busy to guide or teach me things. At first, I felt very conceited but eventually, I’ve learned to be independent and memorised all the menu items, like the back of my hand so that I could quickly be a part of the team.”

Textures of Dark Chocolate ($22). Tarte by Cheryl Koh has extended its operating hours till 10.30pm on Thursdays to Sundays for a fine evening of sweet offerings and wine pairings.
Tell us more about the pivotal moment in your career path that shaped who you are today.

When I left Joel Robuchon to join Tarte, a small takeaway shop back then, everyone told me it was a bad decision. However, I wanted to give it a shot to see how far I could grow as I see a potential in the brand.

After a few years, I’m proud to say that we have since expanded from the small takeaway counter to a dine-in space serving artisanal tarts and plated desserts. I’m glad that I made the decision not to give up and to see through this milestone alongside the team.

I’ve always wanted to be a Head Chef where I can work towards running a kitchen team.I’m glad that I’ve finally achieved this milestone.

I felt that everyone was against my decision at that time but it turned out to be the best decision of my life.

Can you tell us more about the challenges you faced?

I joined Tarte in August 2017 and did the Formula One event set up over a span of three days. We were invited to be the only pastry concept at the Paddock Club hosting VVIPs alongside Jean George and Nobu.

It was making desserts for 300 pax a day. We were just a small takeaway shop back then. I’m glad my team and I pushed through all the late nights to make this a successful event.

And we made it! Despite everyone looking like zombies after the 3 days. It was definitely worth all our time and efforts. I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to meet Chef Heston Blumenthal and Chef Neil Parry.

Here, she wrote to her 18 year old self, just before embarking on her pastry diploma at Shatec Institution:

Dear younger Kelly, 

Congratulations! Finally 18th!

Life just started! I know you are excited to explore overseas life without your parents, but who knows that you’ve decided to settle in Singapore instead. So my advice to you Kelly, enjoy the best moment with your parents for as long as possible and go after your dreams eventually. Every visit back home will be meaningful and treasured as your parents are not getting any younger.

I’m glad that you had listened to your Dad to pursue a career in pastry not knowing that this would have been life changing for you! All your sweat and tears will pay off, be patient. You will be starting your pastry diploma in Shatec Institute and your pastry journey will begin from there. Everyone will tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t pursue this and how you should be an engineer or accountant instead. You will prove them wrong.

Grandma might think that being a pastry chef is not something to be proud of because it might mean that you are not great at studying and you don’t have a choice. Don’t worry, you just need to stay focused and remember that you have very supportive parents. It will take a lot of hard work and sacrifice but time will show your efforts and resilience in this fast-paced industry.

You will meet different people along the way that will teach you things and help you to grow. Never miss any opportunity just because you are not ready. Always keep an open mind and have the willingness to learn. This is will land you in your first fabulous job at Daniel Boulud Bistro in the pastry department where you are challenged daily.

Surrounding yourself with such a dynamic team will only help you to achieve your dreams sooner and be as successful as them.Don’t be afraid of hard work and challenges but always strive to improve and do better than the last time. You will learn how to read French when you land a position in Joel Robuchon and this will help you to read most recipe books which then allows you to have a wider knowledge on making French pastries.

Life will be not easy for the next 10 years but everything will be fine and you will soon see yourself succeed when you turn 30! Good luck Kelly!

Your best supporter,

Kelly Cheah

 

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