With her edible forms of art, young Executive Pastry Chef Cindy Khoo of D9 Cakery at Hilton Singapore is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to innovative flavour pairings and unusual pastry profiles
It’s not often that one hears of an engineering graduate who takes the world of pastry by storm. The young Executive Pastry Chef Cindy Khoo helming D9 Cakery at Hilton Singapore was actually doing a part-time café stint when she fell in love with cakes, and despite the unexpected tangent, started seamlessly on her pastry journey.
Always having been fascinated by architecture and modern art, Khoo was most interested in making her creations edible forms of art, a challenge that she still enjoys till date. Lauded as one of the youngest executive pastry chef in town, this innovative chef is known for her unusual flavour pairings in her wanderlust-inspired edible art confectionary pieces. Indeed, one look at her butterfly creation on our cover tells you the calibre of this talented chef.
We spoke to Khoo in detail about what makes her tick, her inspirations, her journey so far and what we can expect next from her.
What is it about desserts and confectionaries that makes you so passionate about them?
I started my career as a barista in a café during my college days and that was the time when I discovered my passion in creating desserts and confectionaries. Desserts are “happy food” that can be enjoyed at any time of the day and are always presented as a sweet ending to a meal which never fails to bring a smile to customers’ faces. It is always a pleasure to see their big smiles and to hear their feedback, whether positive or negative, all of which are insightful for my next creations.
I also enjoy exploring the various types of baking techniques, pairing of different unique ingredients from fruits to floral scents, tea blends, herbs and vegetables as well as styling and designing artisanal cakes that look like edible art pieces.
How do you push boundaries in the highly competitive world of pastry?
I agree that the pastry/baking industry is highly competitive and there are many pastry/cake shops in Singapore. In order to stand out from the crowd, it is essential to keep up with new trends, launch new innovative and seasonal products regularly and stand by your cakery’s core values. At D9 Cakery, we believe in producing artisanal, edible art pieces of artfully crafted cakes, pastries and patisseries which are baked daily using the finest imported and seasonal ingredients.
Travelling is an important source of inspiration for me as I am mostly inspired by the visual cues of my surroundings. Each time I travel or even when I’m exploring Singapore as a ‘tourist’, I enjoy visiting the museums and gardens to look at the architecture, and to get close to the flora and fauna for inspiration on design and flavours. I also like to spend time reading and doing market research to keep abreast of current trends and baking techniques as well as experiment with unique flavour profiles, ingredients, cooking methods and cake designs.
As a chef, how important is it for you to evolve and reinvent your creations?
I advocate continuous learning and development of skills and knowledge across any industry. It is even more important for a pastry chef to constantly challenge themselves and to think out of the box to expand their creativity, especially on visual presentation.
Particularly in Singapore, where people are generally well-travelled and with the country being a melting pot of cuisines, people have easy access to a variety of cuisines, flavours, unique ingredients and food trends. Over the years, I think that Singaporeans have set higher expectations for the food scene and for pastries in particular. There is a lot more emphasis on visual presentation and flavours.
Regarding recent trends, there is an increasing demand for fruity flavours, quality and healthier options of cakes and pastries which are less sweet and cater to specific dietary preferences. We’re launching D9 Cakery’s cake refresh this month, so look out for new menu additions such as the Flourless Double Chocolate Cake, a sixlayered gluten-free chocolate cake inspired by D9 Cakery’s new signature Double Chocolate Cake with eight layers, a yoghurt cocoa sponge and the combination of two types of the finest Valrhona chocolate.
There will also be a refreshed fruit pastry collection of unique flavour pairings such as Mango Osmanthus Lychee, Orange Blossom with Black Sesame, Ume Hojicha Chocolate as well as Earl Grey with Nectar Peach
If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?
Besides developing a passion in baking, I enjoy listening to music and playing the saxophone. I was a saxophonist during my school days for close to seven years. If I could go back in time, I would have spent more effort in pursuing both passions in baking and brushing up my skills in music as it is still my creative muse. Sometimes, during my off-days, I would indulge in some of my classic tune picks such as Suite No.3 in D Major, BWV 1068 and the all-time favourite — La Vie En Rose to get inspired.
How do your French & Japanese educational background and skills hone your own skills?
I enjoy travelling and two of my favourite cities which I visit almost every year are Paris and Tokyo. When you think of pastries and desserts, Paris will be top on the list as it is a city filled with artisanal bakeries in almost every corner. And Tokyo is a city that is brimming with its own energy and culture. The precision and consistency of flavours and techniques showcased by their patisseries are remarkable.
Every culture adopts different baking styles and techniques. I love experiencing new cultures and trying new desserts which help me to expand my creativity and knowledge, especially when experimenting with new creations. Besides being innovative, it is also important to ensure that the creations are relevant to your customers. I adapt the various baking techniques, designs and flavour profiles to best cater to the local Singaporean palate.
Any personal challenges that you’ve faced as a pastry chef to get to where you are today?
There is no secret to success but with a strong tenacity, passion and diligence, it will take you far. As one of the youngest Executive Pastry Chef in Singapore, I have to put in double the effort and work harder in order to set an example as a role model for my team. It is okay to fail, but you must never quit. I have learnt to keep an open mind to trial and error, experiment and spend time to read up on new trends and ingredients. You must first believe in yourself before convincing others that you can achieve and excel better than others.
As a chef, we spend most of the time in the kitchen and we will have to sacrifice our personal time in order to deliver and complete tasks in time. However, I truly believe that in everything that you do, it is most important to be passionate, to enjoy what you do and make the best of your time.