From Pharmacy to Pastry: The Journey of SKAI's Chef Koo Jee

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Risking her career in the pharmaceuticals industry, Chef Koo Jee shifted to pastry and has since been dominating the culinary industry.

Chef Koo Jee is dominating the Singapore culinary scene one pastry at a time.

If you are a fan of Instragrammable food that doesn’t only look good in pictures but also tastes good in person, then you’ve probably heard of the menu items—particularly the desserts—at SKAI.

The recently opened restaurant and bar located at the 70th storey of Swissotel the Stamford not only boasts the iconic view of the Singapore skyline. It also features fine curations of dishes, easily making it a top choice for social and sky-dining in the city.

But behind some of its popular menu items is a story a young chef who is dominating the Singapore culinary scene. I spoke to SKAI’s Pastry Chef Chong Koo Jee about her award-winning creations and what it takes to make it in the culinary industry.

From Pharmacy to Pastry

Chef Koo Jee was born to a “typical Asian family”. When it was time to decide on the path she would take for her career, the young chef said she “followed the advice of [my] parents and decided to pursue a career in the medical field.”

According to Chef Koo Jee, even though she initially wanted to go to the field of food and beverage, she was convinced to take up a Pharmacy because her parents originally wanted her to study instead.

“I worked working at a hospital for 2 and a half years. I was doing pharmaceuticals, and I while I was there, I was thinking ‘is this the journey I really want to have for the rest of my life?” she said.

But the chef knew it inside her that using her creativity, as well as the passion for innovation was what she really interested in. “I love creating and innovating. And since the beginning, food was of interest so I thought if I can combine both, perhaps it would be interesting.”

Realising the potential in marrying food with her passion was what lead Chef Koo Jee to change course.

“[I wanted to explore]  taste, texture, and the concept  [of food].  After starting off my formative education in pharmaceuticals, I realised that I wanted to pursue something that will allow me to exercise my creativity and food naturally became the path I wanted to pursue.”

Chef Koo Jee of SKAI

Chong Koo Jee, Pastry Chef at SKAI

She then took up a diploma course in Pastry and Bakery at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.

Her study and professional training in the field paved her way into the industry. She started off as a baker of viennoiseries at a popular, local-grown bakery. And though Chef Koo Jee has been a pastry chef for just over 6 years, this does not limit her from making it big in the industry.

Chef Koo Jee: Award-winning Female Pastry Chef

The 30-year-old pastry chef has won several notable awards since changing fields. Some of her awards and recognition include Best Female Pastry Chef in 2015, Best Chocolate Cake and Best Sugar Sculpture at the Champion of Singapore Pastry Cup in 2017. Most recently, she was a runner-up at the Asia Pastry Cup 2018.

Now the pastry chef of SKAI, Chef Koo Jee brings her award-winning pastry skills to unique and modern dessert items featured there.

Desserts by Chef Koo Jee

Chef Koo Jee’s unique and modern desserts

Despite all the recognition and accolades, Chef Koo Jee remains humble. When I asked her if she thinks she has reached the peak of her career, she replied: “it’s hard to say that when I still have a lot of dreams I want to pursue.”

Quoting John Schaar, the pastry chef said ‘the future is one that we are creating’. “The food industry has given me so much and in return, I want to give back. I want to do so by pushing the boundaries [in] Singapore’s pastry scene. I don’t think this dream is unique to me but to push this agenda, I will continue to train my team to the best of my ability.”

Chef Koo Jee and her team are currently training for Lyon coup du monde, the pastry competition that brings young pastry talents from all over the world.

“Stay inspired… Never give up.”

While watching Chef Koo Jee create the dessert pieces, I asked if she has ever run out of ideas. She said staying inspired is key.

“I am a visual person. I get inspiration from what I see — whether it’s people or the things around me. It could be anything from a flow, a chain of events, colour. That’s why creations remind me of my conviction and my passion. They remind me of my journey and the people I’ve shared the journey with, and it goes around. What I remember is what then keeps me inspired to create and recreate.”

But according to Chef Koo Jee, it isn’t always easy.

“It takes a lot of patience, and perseverance,” the chef said. “To be able to marry ideas into execution, while admirable is also challenging.”

“But be patient. Never stop, never give up, and never stop exploring.”

Written by

Nikki De Guzman