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From accountant to pastry chef at Singapore's best restaurants

From accountant to pastry chef at Singapore's best restaurants
Meet Jeanette Ow, Director of Pastry at Italian eatery Fico.
PHOTO: Jeanette Ow, Fico

If you're an avid foodie who likes to dine at nice restaurants, then you've probably eaten one of Jeanette Ow's desserts.

The youthful 41-year-old pastry chef has worked at well-known restaurants like Jean Georges Vongerichten's Dempsey Cookhouse, and Julien Royer's Claudine. She is now Director of Pastry at Mirko Febbrile's breezy Italian eatery Fico and his upcoming fine dining restaurant slated to open in the last quarter of the year.

As a former accountant, Jeanette found herself missing joy in her work. When it really started to get her down, she decided it was time to ask herself what makes her happiest. The answer: Baking. The rest, as the old trope goes, is history.

Today, Jeanette's joy is evident in her sweet creations that, in turn, bring joy to everyone who partakes of them.

How did you become interested in baking?

My mum was illiterate, and she found joy in her hobbies, which were mostly crafting. I followed her in almost everything she did. So we did a lot of drawing, modelling and stuff like that together, which I found a lot of happiness in. I think doing pastry is similar in that I like to do things with my hands.

Later on, my aunt baked the best cookies in church and I asked her to teach me how to make them. I went to her house and learnt from her, but when I tried to make it at home, the results were never the same as hers. This intrigued me. Why did this fail when it's so simple?

I kept going back and forth with her and eventually realised that I really had to follow the recipe, the timing, the temperature of the oven… all of that. I was so intrigued by all the little details that matter in pastry and that's how my interest in baking grew.

How did you decide to become a pastry chef?

I studied to be an accountant, but I didn't find any joy in that. I felt like I'd lost my spark for life. Even though being an accountant made me a decent salary, I just didn't feel any happiness.

When I got a little older, I asked myself, what would make me happy? I am a dreamer and love all things creative and imaginative. Since I'd been practicing meditation to bring clarity of thought, I meditated for a while and during one of those meditations, it came to me: I like baking.

My cousin Marcus was studying culinary arts in Australia, so I thought, why don't I try that as well? I have nothing to lose. So I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney to do my Certificat De Patisserie Superieure. It's been a long process to get where I am today, but I took it step by step.

Tell us about some desserts you've created for Chef Mirko's restaurants.

When I joined Mirko in February this year, I created some new desserts for Fico's popular dessert trolley, like a vanilla honey panna cotta with passionfruit, mango and chilli.

As much as possible, we try to make the trolley experience feel new and different, but at the same time, ensure that the famous Italian classics are on it too. So this dessert was a result of doing something traditional and familiar, but with a twist.

I also created a cheesecake with pomelo, grapefruit and lemon marmalade for two reasons. One is to improve kitchen efficiency by reducing our use of the oven. Fico has several baked dishes on its menu, like a whole fish or eggplant parmigiana.

One of our struggles has been that the oven is often unavailable for the duration it takes for an entire cake to bake. The other reason is minimising waste. The restaurant uses a lot of Amalfi lemon zest, juice and wedges, especially for drinks, so we make a lemon marmalade with the spent, skinless lemons.

I love how the slight bitterness of these beautiful lemons cuts through the richness of the cheesecake. The cake is topped with a grapefruit glaze and fresh segments of citrus fruit like pomelo, grapefruit and blood orange. I think this reflects Fico's philosophy of being generous with the best ingredients to achieve optimum flavour.

What kind of desserts will you create for his upcoming fine dining restaurant at New Bahru?

I can't be specific yet, but they will be drawn from my experience with European desserts. They will have a raw, modern edge and a different take on presentation.

I am super excited about what we have been putting together. The flavours, experience and design will be fresh and new!

What's your favourite dessert?

I love mille-feuille. I have this thing for the combination of crunchiness and softness, which mille-feuille has. It's such a simple dessert, but really tasty.

What's your favourite dessert to make?

I love making tarts. Something simple and comforting like a lemon tart is very beautiful to me.

Do you often get comparisons with Jeanette Aw since your names are almost the same?

No, but when I was working at Claudine, customers would see my name on the menu and think that Jeanette Aw was the pastry chef there.

What's funny is one time, Jeanette Aw was really in the restaurant and saw my name on the menu. She asked the front-of-house if I would come out to meet her. I did. We laughed about it and took a picture together.

What do you love about being a pastry chef?

I love that when I'm at work and baking, I'm not distracted by my thoughts. I love that I can be in the moment, and I am calm and focused.

ALSO READ: Continuing her family's legacy: 26-year-old woman taking over parents' hawker business after their retirement

This article was first published in

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