“Be glad you didn’t listen to him, take the risks, and choose adventure, it’ll take you places and enrich you with experience.” Letters to my younger self: Cheryl Koh, Singapore

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say? This series will be featuring remarkable women of our craft, writing letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and inspiration. Their letters provide unique glimpses into the personal lives of incredible women in the F&B industry as well as great wisdom that we will all cherish.

“Continue to put yourself wholly in your ambitions, in the people who support you, and in living your life to the fullest.” – Cheryl Koh. Image credit: Les Amis

In 2016, award-winning Chef Cheryl Koh was named “Asia’s Best Pastry Chef” at the 2016 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Recently, she was nominated for World Gourmet Awards 2021 and 2022 as Best Pastry Chef of the Year. Cheryl attributes her success to an experience of visceral hunger. Reflecting on her first kitchen job interview when the Chef asked what her goal was, Cheryl says, “I told him that one day, I would like to be one of the best pastry chefs in Singapore, that was my goal.”

From the age of 19, Cheryl knew she wanted to go to France to work in a kitchen. At the same time, she had the chance to be enrolled at the prestigious National University of Singapore (NUS) and pursued a university degree in Geography and European studies. “I felt that having a good education was the path to independence and freedom of choice, and it was with the degree that I was able to apply for a visa that allowed me to work in France, and got me the job in Restaurant Lasserre, my first starred restaurant I worked at.” 

Upon graduation, she embarked on rigorous training to hone her craft, learning only from the best. She has worked at illustrious establishments like two-star Michelin Lasserre, Burj Al Arab in Dubai with renowned Austrian pastry chef Felix Schmid, two Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 in Sorrento, Grand Lisboa in Macau and The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. 

Cheryl began her career with the Les Amis Group at the end of 2010, when CÉPAGE’s Head Chef, Chef Sebastien Lepinoy, appointed her as his Pastry Chef. Upon returning to Singapore in 2013, the duo helmed the group’s iconic flagship fine-dining restaurant, Les Amis, which earned two Michelin stars in 2016 and three Michelin stars in 2018.

Chef Cheryl’s calling card is in the display case of Tarte by Cheryl Koh, launched 2015 under Les Amis Group at Shaw Centre, showcasing her intricate tarts made with a variety of high-quality seasonal ingredients. The roots of Chef Cheryl’s creations are firmly rooted in classic French patisserie, but she invests them with a deft measure of perfection and innovation.  A lot of time and effort is spent perfecting a seemingly simple tart and sourcing the right ingredients. In 2020, Tarte by Cheryl Koh opened a second branch at Raffles City. 

She’d known what it meant to work in the world’s best gastronomy kitchen for a long time. Cheryl’s dedication to her craft is evident and it shows in her exceptional and exquisitely presented artisanal desserts. Here, Cheryl is writing to her 18 years old self. 

Hello Cheryl,

Happy 18th Birthday!

Life certainly gets better, even at 18 when you think life couldn’t get any better. All that uncertain excitement and adrenaline doesn’t fade, each milestone, each period of your life will bring you new challenges, new people and new experiences. You grow to be more of yourself, and find contentment, gratitude and purpose in your life. Live in the feeling of being (finally) 18, and life could not get any better than this with freedom, friends, and a whole life ahead.

Be patient, the decision to go to university will eventually help you get to France, and make you eligible to apply for a visa that will allow you to work. This would be your first job in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

It really is the best time in your life, you just don’t know it yet, but your family, and your school friends, will become your support group with a shared childhood that other people you meet in your adult life do not share in. They are the ones who will celebrate your triumphs and success, and have watched you grow, and will be your cheerleaders and biggest fans, no matter what.

You will be glad to not listen to naysayers – like the one executive chef you met once for an interview, and when you shared that you wanted to go to France and work in a Michelin-starred restaurant, he said to you, “it’s a very bad decision to go to France, for an Asian girl with hardly any experience, it’s like going to war with just a small pocketknife, you are not prepared, the kitchen life is very hard, they don’t speak English, and you will fail”.

Be glad you didn’t listen to him, take the risks, and choose adventure, it’ll take you places and enrich you with experience.

Continue to put yourself wholly in your ambitions, in the people who support you, and in living your life to the fullest.

Your biggest cheerleader, 

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