This story was first published on March 1, 2019, and updated on March 5, 2021.
It may be naïve of us to presume we’ve outgrown the need to celebrate the achievements of women in the culinary arts as a marvellous consideration. But I like to believe that it’s a noble career, albeit with exceptionally high demands, for anyone to pursue.
Just as much, it would be equally foolish to ignore their struggles in a largely male-centric industry, so there is good reason to celebrate these women as culinary professionals who have helped shape our penchant for dining well despite society’s short-sightedness. To quote one of my favourite authors of gastronomy (male or female), the eloquently scrupulous MFK Fisher, “Our texture of belief has great holes in it. Our patterns lack pieces.” Even more alarming is the fact that she had written about this in 1942.
So, with this year’s International Women's Day celebrations just around the corner, we take a moment to ask a few trailblazing female chefs behind this tiny island’s ever-vibrant dining scene to share a little about the women who have helped nurture their brilliance and sharpened their conviction.
1. Petrina Loh, chef-owner of Morsels
"I remember very clearly being at a supermarket with my mother when I was four or five years old. They were giving out balloons and I wanted one, so I cried and insisted she got it for me. But she said that if I wanted something, I had to get it myself. “In life, nothing will be placed on the plate for you,” she said. This stuck with me throughout my studies and career.
I’m an only child and my dad passed away suddenly from cerebral haemorrhage when I was 15. Still, my mum and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things; she wanted me to study business and finance, but I wanted to go to Lasalle to study arts. I did what she wanted anyway. I decided I had to do it well and graduate fast. I graduated with a double major and became a banker at 21 years of age. In four years, I became a private banker. It was an arduous journey, but this tenacity and drive was something she instilled in me that day at the supermarket.
My mother is a very strong woman. She raised me on her own, and I turned out pretty decent. I rarely talk about her in interviews, as she doesn’t cook. My late father was an excellent cook and the one who taught me cooking when I was a kid, so he gets quite a lot of mention. My mother wasn't as interested or adventurous when it came to food. In recent years, she has become allergic to a lot of things, especially gluten, which got me thinking about gluten-free diets, and fermentation as well.
She didn’t encourage me to pursue a career as a chef, especially when I told her that I was going to quit banking to be a chef; I was 29 and at the height of my banking career. In the end, though, she told me that it was ultimately my decision and that I had to see it through. She didn’t think that I would end up starting my own restaurant.
To this day, I see that she worries for me because my hours are super long, and she still throws me the question: “how long are you going to do this for?” But I know she is supportive in her own way and is proud of me."
Morsels | 25 dempsey road, #01-04, S(249670) | 6266 3822