At first glance, cake expert Penk Ching and chef LG Han from Singapore may have nothing in common except for being on top of their own game. The former remains to be the household name when it comes to elaborate celebration cakes, having produced edible masterpieces for many high-profile weddings here and abroad as well as milestone events like the 2008 Olympics held in China. The latter is the 36-year-old chef of restaurant Labyrinth, the lauded ambassador when it comes to contemporary Singaporean cuisine and sustainability, having been recognised by the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants group for his commitment to championing local produce and communities.
Dig deeper and you will discover that the semblance doesn’t end there. In fact, their careers couldn’t have taken any more similar paths. Both were bankers by trade. Ching graduated with a business course, two master’s degrees and DPhil units under her belt, while Han finished with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance in London.
Both also enjoyed cooking as a hobby. Hers started in high school when she would spend longer hours in the home economics lab compared to her classmates because she wanted to learn the basics of baking. “I just love to eat sweets, simple as that,” she says. Since there were no culinary schools available back then, she thought of taking up fine arts in college to hone her creative expressions. But that didn’t pan out in the end. “I wanted to go to art school, but my father told me that if I wanted to be rich, I should take a business course for in art, I will only be earning if I die,” she cheekily says.
Upon graduation, she became a consultant for the United Nations in New York before returning to her home country and taking the reins as the training and recruitment manager in a multinational bank for more than four years. The job may have allowed her to practice what she learnt in college, but the call of the oven was just too difficult to resist. In between filing papers and conducting interviews, she would find time to produce baked goods. Her bosses would even place orders for her brownies. After a while, the long office hours got in the way of her having a more relaxed lifestyle, and a baby; so she applied for an early retirement plan.
With more time in her hands, Ching, along with sister Shen, enrolled in short baking classes conducted by Maur Lichauco, Salud de Castro, Lilia Gutierrez and Avelina Florendo. Her skill in cake decorating became pretty evident that not long after, she got requests for cakes.