The main woman behind Cloudstreet's innovative desserts sat down with Tatler to discuss what it was like growing up in a food-obsessed nation like Singapore and what inspired her to become a pastry chef
If you have visited Cloudstreet for dinner recently, you will have noticed the new ‘moving experience’, where guests start in the main dining room on the first floor and finish with desserts in the newly launched lounge on the second level.
The latter is helmed by Maira Yeo, who was recently crowned Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2022 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. The 30-year-old pastry chef, who trained at notable patisseries around the world including Aska in New York, USA, and Patrice Patisserie in Montreal, Canada, joined chef-owner Rishi Naleendra’s team in 2020. Since then she has spruced up the menu to create innovative offerings that play on interesting flavour combinations—much to the delight of new and loyal guests alike.
It was no surprise to many that she earned this prestigious accolade—well, except to Yeo herself, who shares that she was “100 per cent surprised” when she found out. While she admits that being “Asia's Best Pastry Chef” wasn’t really a goal she was aiming for, it was great motivation for the team to continue delivering an exceptional dining experience.
Following the announcement of the award, we sat down with Yeo to learn about her culinary influences, mentors and what we can expect from her dessert menu.
In case you missed it: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 Revealed With Tokyo’s Den Claiming Top Spot
What was it like growing up in a food-obsessed nation like Singapore?
Maira Yeo (MY): Growing up in Singapore, it is easy for food to be a part of anyone’s life. You don’t realise how important it is until you leave the island, and you interact with some people who only think of it as something they eat to give them energy for the day.
When I grew up, it was very different. Our food had to be delectable and nicely presented—especially since I am Chinese. My mum is Teochew and my dad is Hokkien, and our meals always had at least one soup, one meat dish and a vegetable side. For my parents, that was a balanced meal.
What are your favourite food memories from growing up?
MY: I enjoyed helping my mum cook special dishes for various holidays. For Chinese New Year, we would always have extended family gatherings where everyone had to bring home-cooked meals. She would often prepare ngoh hiang, meat and vegetables wrapped with beancurd skin; and pineapple tarts. I would be her little minion who assisted her in melting the butter, and portioning out the meat or the dough.
These family gatherings would often turn into a friendly competition when my relatives would bring the same dishes, and my aunts would ask everyone: “Whose version is the nicest?”
You also helped your parents at their hawker stall when you were younger. Could you tell us more about that?
MY: My parents spent so much time at work, they would bring me to their mixed rice hawker stall so they could also spend time with me. I was about six years old then and they put me in charge of frying the eggs. I helped until I was 17 years old, and my job scope included manning the store, dealing with customers and helping out at the cashier.
Did you ever think of inheriting your parents’ business?
MY: The conversation came up, but I never thought of taking over the stall. At the same time, it wasn’t the route that my parents envisioned for me. They were very traditional Asian parents who wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer—never in the F&B line of work.
What ignited your passion for pastries then?
MY: It all started with the 2005 K-drama, My Lovely Sam Soon, starring Hyun Bin. There was an episode that delved into two different doughs—one grew with additional help from extra ingredients like baking powder and baking soda, and the other with just flour and water. The message resonated with me: there is nothing wrong with being the dough made with flour and water, even though it takes a longer time to grow.
You worked in the kitchens of notable chefs. How did the experience hone you as a pastry chef?
MY: Working with culinary greats instilled in me the value of discipline and hard work. We can all dream about mastering our craft, but what is the point if we are not going to put in the effort?
Through my experience (working in their kitchens), I also realised that less is more. It is always about creating tasty food and not about using insane cooking techniques just to impress the guests. It is also important to use the ingredients we have and make them taste good.
Who are the chefs you look up to?
MY: I have always admired the creations of pastry chef Francisco Migoya (head chef of Modernist Cuisine). They are always so creative, innovative and they always look stunning. I am also in awe of Maaemo chef Esben Holmboe Bang’s drive and work ethic—he is on a different level.
What is your culinary style?
MY: I have always been interested in using savoury ingredients to create my desserts. I am very lucky that I was given a lot of freedom to experiment in the kitchen, starting as a pastry chef at Meta. Chef-owner Sun Kim gave me the platform to incorporate ingredients like gochujang and bacon to my creations. Chef Rishi honed it even further with greater freedom and opportunity because he believes in savoury desserts, too.
Where do you get your inspiration?
MY: I am always inspired by ingredients and cultures. One of our main desserts is the pickled guava which is laid out in such a way that it resembles how cloth is weaved. The idea stemmed from the weaving culture in Sri Lanka. It is finished with fried capers—one of the ingredients I also enjoy eating.
What can we expect from your desserts menu?
MY: We don’t update the menu according to seasons because we have the whole world to work with. However, the average lifespan of each item is six weeks so our repeat guests will always have something new to look forward to.
One creation that both chef Rishi and I like is the celtuce, and it is on our current menu. It is the stem of a lettuce that is made into a sorbet, studded with confit cubes within, and finished with a layer of cream made with chilli and yoghurt. Tableside, it is finished with celtuce juice and vanilla oil. It is very refreshing!
Rachel Tan (Cloudstreet)