Chef Series #2 Kay-Lene Tan

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Chef Tan was born in Melbourne, but raised in Singapore within a diverse and culinary rich climate. This fusion of cultures has helped shaped her into the chef and women that she is today. For the last six years she has had the privilege of working as a pastry chef. During that time, she has won numerous awards and received countless accolades, even as she continues to refine her trade.

Chef Tan can recall many wonderful memories from her childhood; many of them involving food to some degree. Even as a young person growing up in Singapore, she learned the trade from a number of chefs that taught her the art of cooking. She remembers each of them getting to know her as a person, developing a passion within her to be the best chef that she can be. That learning experience has paid off, as she now is herself a mentor to many young and aspiring chefs throughout Australia.

Cooking Style

Every chef has his or her unique style, and Kay-Lene is no different. She typically refers to her own cooking personality as being whimsical, modern, and simplistic. She can take something as simple as strawberry and incorporate it into a meringue shell that is beautifully presented to all guests. Dark chocolate made into a cremeux that has become one of her most highly sought after dessert dishes. All of this and more is accomplished by taking simple everyday food items and transforming them into a true culinary delight that is worthy of her designation as a pastry chef.

San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 Dessert - Basil panna cotta, strawberry jelly, palm sugar crumble, strawberry coulis

San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 Dessert – Basil panna cotta, strawberry jelly, palm sugar crumble, strawberry coulis

Inspiration

Chef Tan has drawn her inspiration from the great culinary inventors that have gone before her. She understands the importance of learning from the best. Even though she is now a recognized pastry chef, she knows that she has much more left to learn. At the same time, she can look back at her roots in Singapore to better appreciate all of the various experiences that have shaped her into the chef that she is today.
In fact, she firmly believes that one must first appreciate where they have come from in order to know where they are heading. Because of this, Chef Tan has created some lofty goals for herself and she has a firm and realistic plan to reach every one of them.

assisting-chef-daniel-boulud-at-the-epicurean-market-singapore

Assisting Chef Daniel Boulud at the Epicurean Market, Singapore

Sweets Are Her Motivation

Becoming a pastry chef is hard work, but Chef Tan has obviously perfected the art. Many people wonder what prompts a cook to become interested solely in pastry and other sweet items. The answer is quite simple in Kay-Lene’s case: She loves sugar! It doesn’t matter what form the sugar comes in, she will find a way to put it to great use. She also understands the importance of moderation. She doesn’t pour more sugar into a dish than it requires, opting instead for that fine balance between using sugar as a sweetening agent and turning a dish into a bitter creation that nobody wants to eat. She obviously has learned to do the former, and with perfection at that.

Her signature dish is her deconstructed carrot cake, inspired by her mother’s favorite dessert. Using a traditional recipe for Indian carrot halwa as a base, she has paired it with cream cheese ice cream, whipped mascarpone, walnut crumble, and apricot coulis to create a plated dessert that, when eaten, tastes much like the baked version of this sweet treat.

Carrot halwa, walnut-cinnamon crumble, cream cheese sorbet, whipped mascarpone, apricot coulis - Photo by Tess Kelly

Carrot halwa, walnut-cinnamon crumble, cream cheese sorbet, whipped mascarpone, apricot coulis – Photo by Tess Kelly

She also has honed her macaron making skills, these are one of her favorite items to cook, and the presentation that she delivers these with has earned her rave reviews through the years.

While many chefs simply bake their food items and consider their job to be done, Chef Tan feels that this is just beginning. Knowing how to mix together just the right blend of ingredients is only half the battle. One must also know how to effectively create a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing pastry dish that wows all those who feast their eyes upon it. That is her main objective, and it certainly appears to have been met. This attention to detail is replayed over and over again with each and every one of her pastry dishes.

Food and Other Aspects of Life

Interestingly enough, Singaporean cuisine is Chef Tan’s favorite. She might be living and working in Australia today, but she often goes back to her cultural roots when it comes to her favorite main course dishes. It is also her culture that she credits with her overwhelming desire to work hard. She did not get to where she is today without a great deal of effort, failures, and pain along the way. She is thankful for her upbringing as she credits that with instilling within her the ability to meet each challenge head on as it arises.

Assisting Chef Andres Lara at a CacaoBarry Collective Dinner at Savour School, Melbourne

Assisting Chef Andres Lara at a CacaoBarry Collective Dinner at Savour School, Melbourne

What Does the Future Hold?

Chef Tan believes that being a pastry chef is her lifelong pursuit. As such, all of her long-range plans involve continuing to perfect her craft and to be able to share as many of her dessert creations with people around the world. She also wants to pay forward the many lessons that she has learned through the years to help aspiring young chefs achieve their dreams as well.

Along the Tonka alleyway - Photography by Tim Grey

Along the Tonka alleyway – Photography by Tim Grey

For now, she works at Tonka restaurant as the head pastry chef. She sees herself remaining there for the foreseeable future, with the ultimate goal of developing a more international presence at some point. For now, she is happy doing what she does best. She works hard every day to take the simple ingredients that she is given and turning them into pastry dishes that bring a smile to faces of her many patrons. That is what gives her real joy.



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