AlumniHow I became a head chef at 25

At just 27 years of age, Malaysian-born Jet Lo is helming the kitchen of one of Singapore’s most popular restaurants and he’s enjoying every minute of it.

 

“You need to build a strong foundation and be disciplined. More importantly you need to thrive under pressure. The adrenaline is always pumping when you’re working in a restaurant – you’re living on the edge.”

 

Since 2012, Sabah-born DCT alumni Jet Lo, has been helming the kitchen at Ding Dong, a popular restaurant in Singapore known for its modern interpretation of South-East Asian cuisine. 2015 has been an exhilarating year for Jet. He represented Singapore at the Omnivore World Tour Shanghai 2015 - the first global culinary festival that integrates renowned international and local chefs. He was also the youngest chef to represent the nation at one of the world's leading annual gastronomy congress - the San Sebastian Gastronomika 2015. To top it all off, Ding Dong was nominated ‘Best Restaurant’ by premier luxury lifestyle magazine, Singapore Tatler. One would think such accomplishments would be accredited to a seasoned veteran, but Jet is just 27 years of age.

Jet’s passion for food started with his family where his father ran a coffee shop and his mother supplied homemade tofu to restaurants. In his teens, he helped in the family business and by the age of 18, he began working part time in restaurants. After graduating with a Swiss Education in 2010, Jet moved to Singapore, working for a year as a Junior Sous Chef at a clubhouse, before finding his place as Head Chef at Ding Dong.

Who were your first culinary teachers and did you learn to cook out of interest or necessity?
It would have to be my family. I was born into a ‘foodie’ family and I grew up in a small village where we grew our own produce. My mother and grandmother were always cooking and it was very interesting for me to watch them cook as they both come from different heritages and thus had different styles of cooking. Nobody in my family had any formal education or training as a chef so everything they learnt was passed on from generation to generation. Cooking was such an integral part of my family, so it was a no brainer for me to go in that direction.

As a young Head Chef, how do you get your staff to take you seriously and listen to you?
More than anything I try to lead by example. Working in the kitchen is a team effort, even if it is about putting up just one dish. People look up to you when you’re willing to do the same menial tasks as everybody else. This is where the training I received with Swiss Education Group has helped me greatly as I learnt to be more confident in my work and the leadership skills I picked up in school is being put to use now as I lead my own team here in the restaurant.

 

“I don’t think one’s age matters in how much respect one gets. If you are good at what you do, people will take you seriously and want to learn from you. The most important thing is maintaining a good environment.”

 

You have been cooking for 10 years and gained quite a lot of experience already. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want a break?
I definitely do get tired and there were days when I first started, I wanted to just pack up and leave! As crazy as the hours can get, food has always been a part of my life. I live and breathe it and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather be doing.

Who has been your biggest influence?
That would have to be Chef Patrick Diethelm (Executive Chef Instructor at Culinary Arts Academy’s Lucerne Campus). Chef Patrick always strove for perfection and he was really tough on all of us, but I think it got the best out of me and I have to credit him for pushing me beyond my limits. He taught me that the hallmarks of a great chef is one who is disciplined, has a strong grasp on the foundations of classical cooking and one who maintains a well-organised kitchen.

What is your culinary philosophy?
I enjoy creating food that brings back memories – a sense of nostalgia. I like to find out about the origins and history behind a specific dish and using new ingredients to bring back familiar flavours in a different way.

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