The Yum List gets to know a little about the life of a pastry chef with InterContinental Singapore’s pastry chef Ben Goh.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I am Ben Goh, the Pastry Chef at InterContinental Singapore.
For as long as I can remember, my maternal grandmother has been baking Kueh Lapis for friends and neighbours during Chinese New Year in Malaysia. When I was young, I would help her separate egg yolks from whites, measure out the sugar, and beat the butter. I would revel in the heady smells of the freshly baked cakes but they were always given away before I could get a taste. I did all these without knowing that they were all part of the baking process, and when I did, I decided that I would be a professional pastry chef.
To better equip myself with the relevant skills, I attended a pastry school in Kuala Lumpur and upon graduation, a friend recommended me to work in a Malaysian hotel. Another friend of mine then encouraged me to take up a position in Singapore where he was working. That’s how my career in the pastry kitchens of hotels in Singapore began.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
I competed in the Japan Cake Show Tokyo 2016 competition along with a few teammates from the Singapore Pastry Alliance. We packed and brought along the equipment that we needed to use at the competition venue. However, much to our horror, we realized that Japan’s voltage ran at 110 watts and our equipment from Singapore required 220 watts to function properly. As a result, my sugar lamp was only able to run at half its usual power, resulting in difficulties in maintaining the temperature of my sugar pieces and extra time to complete each component. Thankfully, I was still able to finish my competition piece within the allotted time and even emerged first runner-up!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
I have a sweet tooth and I’d have to say that the best part of my job has definitely got to be the ever-easy access to desserts and pastries. However, this is a double-edged sword as I have little resistance when it comes to sweets – I’ve found myself gaining a few pounds in the recent few years!
What’s your favourite meal experience in InterContinental Singapore?
I love meats so my favourite dishes from our restaurants are all meat-based. I enjoy the Beef Tomahawk at Ash & Elm – the delicate marbling of the 300-day grass-fed beef prepared over the charcoal grill imparts a smoky flavour complementing the succulent cut. Man Fu Yuan’s smoked Kagoshima pork belly char siew is also one of my favourites, with the quality of the pork further enhanced by our master chef’s secret marinade.
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
This would probably be the time when I had to prepare plated desserts for a dinner with 6,000 guests with my team of six. Preparation began a week in advance and just cutting the chocolate mousse into shape took two full working days. On the day of the dinner, we began plating the dessert from 7 am. Just as we had completed the entire process close to 9 pm, the banquet coordinator came up to me and said: “Chef, prepare to send out the desserts in five minutes.” We really made it just in time, and to date, that has been the most hectic and craziest day I’ve had at work.
The perfect day off would be…
Spending time with my parents. I don’t see them as often as I’d like now that I live and work in Singapore and they are back home in Malaysia. Hence, I really cherish every opportunity I have to spend time with them, be it having a good meal or just relaxing at home together.
A day in the life of a pastry chef is…
Just like anybody’s. I begin my day at 7:30 am and pick up a coffee before heading to the hotel at 9 am. I start the work day by replying to emails and clearing other administrative matters before engaging in my true passion – making desserts. I work alongside my team to create the sweets required in the hotel for the day, and after lunch, I retreat into my little workshop to develop new recipes for the hotel’s afternoon tea or new competition pieces.
In the evening, I head up to the hotel’s restaurants to interact with guests and give them some insight into the desserts they are eating. Occasionally, I attend the Singapore Pastry Alliance meetings in the nights or when competition season is close, I prepare and practice for them. I usually head home close to 10 pm and call it a day at midnight after spending some time with my wife and unwinding.
What do you do for fun?
I recently took an interest in food photography after seeing the beautiful food pictures on social media. I’ve invested a decent amount of money in my photography equipment and spend my spare time improving my skills by reading photography books, watching videos or having hands-on practice by taking pictures of my pastry creations.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about the pastries and desserts in the hotel?
It’d be nice if they knew the story behind each piece of dessert they eat. Each one is inspired by my own experiences from my travels, my childhood, and even the things I eat and see daily. I believe this knowledge will give them a better appreciation of the different flavour combinations in each creation and will make for an elevated dining experience. However, I do understand that it is almost impossible to regale them with my stories, especially when for afternoon tea where we serve close to 10 pastry items.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Few things are better than a slice of fluffy strawberry shortcake paired with a delicate green tea accented with berries and vanilla bouquets.
What’s your view on the food scene in Singapore?
Singapore is moving toward healthy living, with many mindful of what they consume. I find that Singaporeans are also gradually moving away from “gimmicky” food, and are looking for unpretentious food that is innovative and modern in their use of ingredients and layering of flavours in a dish. As such, pastry will have to follow this trend to keep up with the times. On my end, I have reduced the amount of sugar added in each dessert and always insist on using fresh ingredients as much as possible even though there are plenty of frozen options around.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
I will be competing in the World Pastry Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie) in Lyon in January 2019 and have started preparing for that. In October, I will be collaborating with one of Valrhona’s chefs to present our new afternoon tea in InterContinental Singapore’s The Lobby Lounge, where we will be using a variety of premium chocolates to prepare different desserts.