“I set the goal of being the best, and to do that, you have to work with the best.” Letters to my younger self: Olivia Lee, SoGoodK & BRANDFIT Singapore

Olivia Lee, founder of BRANDFIT and SoGoodK in Singapore

Singapore – Olivia Lee is a formidable force in the food industry, having worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, private kitchens, food manufacturing conglomerates, and academia. She made her international debut as Korea’s first female chef at the Burj al Arab.

Olivia later worked for Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, including the three-star Le Meurice by Yannick Alleno. When she returned to Korea, she also worked as a personal cooking instructor and private chef for the country’s most powerful figures in politics, business, and entertainment.

Olivia, who has a naturally magnetic personality, has been hired to host food shows, write columns for South Korea’s leading daily Chosun Ilbo, and was the youngest adjunct professor at BaekSeok Cultural University at the age of 26. She has also held positions at South Korean conglomerate CJ Group, and served the Executive Office of the President between 2012 to 2013 as part of the Tourism Policy and Advisory Committee.

She is now based in Singapore, where she continues to feed her culinary passion through her work at BRANDFIT and SoGoodK, introducing premium Korean ingredients into the local dining scene and enthralling consumers with the premium Korean products retailed through the SoGoodK platform.

Olivia is married to Les Amis Director of Culinary and Operations Sebastien Lepinoy and is mother to a young gourmand. 

Tell us more about yourself and one pivotal event or moment on your career path that shaped your journey.

To become the first female chef from South Korea to work at Dubai’s iconic 7-start hotel, Burj Al Arab, was a pivotal moment for it showed me that I am on the right track to achieve my goals. I’ve been passionate about food since I was young and always wanted to do something in the food and beverage industry. 

But I also knew that I want to be exceptional: so I studied at a hospitality and culinary school in Switzerland, and worked hard to find positions only in the finest establishments around the world — apart from Burj Al Arab, I have also worked at Michelin 3-star restaurants such as three-star establishment Le Meurice by Yannick Alleno. 

I set the goal of being the best, and to do that, you have to work with the best. I was driven by the goal I have set for myself, and it guided my journey, eventually bringing me to where I am today.

Why did you choose this particular season of your life?

It was a critical move: that one strategic move led to many others and brought me on an extraordinary journey —  from kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants to private homes of the Who’s Who in Korea, from university lecture halls to newsrooms and TV studios. There have been many twists and turns in my career path, but the vast experience that I gained through it all has enriched me and allows me to do what I do today.

I knew I wanted to be a chef even before graduating from culinary school in Switzerland, and I sought out the best work experiences I could find. 

Can you tell us more about the challenges you faced? 

Beyond being in the right environment, to be exceptional also means putting in exceptional effort. At the Burj Al Arab, I worked 16 hours a day, making it a point to be the first one in and the last one out. 

I stretched myself further by actively participating in competitions. This meant that after work, I would stay back to perfect my competition training until midnight — and the hard work paid off as I went on to win the Bronze Medal at The Emirates Salon Culinary ‘Chef of the Year’ Competition. The challenge is internal: to constantly push oneself to gain experience and grow through it.

What happened in the end?

Hard work and dedication paid off — I learned and grew immensely in every step of my professional journey. 

This isn’t just about honing technical skills or deepening industry knowledge, it is also about gaining professional connections with people from all around the world — which has been instrumental in running SoGoodK, an online boutique that sells only the best premium Korean products. 

As a foreigner living in Singapore, I wanted to bring the best that Korea can offer to a local audience that is curious about fine Korean cuisines, culture, and fashion, and enthusiastic to experience these for themselves.

Letter to my younger self 

Dear Olivia Lee,

You are always challenging yourself to be the best: you make sure you learn from your mistakes double quick, you never miss a chance to grow, and you are an overachiever who dives head-first into challenges without a second thought. 

You sometimes lose sleep over it, wondering if you are on the right track, if it is all worth it — because it is hard. But you have your priorities straight, and your determination and passion will take you through. The road ahead is long, but the ride will be worth it. Your hard work will pay off richly, so be patient.

There is no need to worry or overthink. If you want something, do not hesitate. Just do your best and try to achieve it. But know that the world is changing day by day, so be flexible and be prepared to adapt to the changes — and be open to take up the many exciting opportunities these changes may bring. 

You will eventually reach where you are supposed to be, and when that happens, you will look back and be proud of how far you have come.

Sincerely, 

Your older self 

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