“I just love food,” confesses Mandy Pan, db Bistro & Bar’s executive pastry chef. Her lunch shift has just finished and with a few hours to go before dinner service, she chats with us over coffee and madeleines (which she says we must eat within 10 minutes, or they'll “lose their magic”) on how she ended up as a pastry chef.
Over a decade ago, it seemed like her passion for sweets was only a pastime. The Malaysian native already loved to bake, but she was on track to become a scientist with a degree in applied chemistry. It was only after she moved to the US with her husband (who finished his PhD there) when she realised that her true calling was in the kitchen—and making gorgeous sweets.
15 years on and she’s back in Singapore, her second home, helming the pastry kitchen of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s Marina Bay Sands outlet. While life is sweet now, she looks back on her experiences to get to where she is. Here are her nuggets of wisdom.
"Pastry making is a… science. My degree in applied chemistry has helped me understand why, say, a cake doesn’t rise up the right way. The key is really precision, if not, you’ll get a wrong reaction."
"A useful tip about making madeleines is… to bake them in a sea shell metal mould for four minutes at a certain temperature. Leave them inside the oven for a few seconds and they’ll come out burnt."
"The hardest pastry to master is... the macaron. It’s very difficult to perfect as the steps are very specific. Fold it one extra layer and the batter becomes too loose and will result in a cookie-like texture. The precise temperature and cooking time are equally important."
"One of the sweetest moments in my life… was when I received the call that I made it to Francois Payard’s pastry team. He’s a pastry god who was chef Daniel Boulud’s first pastry chef."
"Francois Payard taught me… to be organised, disciplined and to be a perfectionist. He has always been my idol and when I moved to the US, I told my husband I was going to work for him."
He’s French and his passion oozes out of him to the point where we have to do things a specific way. It was stressful but that was how I learnt and prepared myself with the role at db Bistro & Bar.
"As the only female chef in his team (at that time)… the challenge I faced was due to my small size; I couldn’t reach most ingredients in the higher cupboards. I needed to be assertive and ask for help. But I also had an advantage—I could do delicate things with my small fingers."
"The pastry scene in the US… is different from Singapore. In the US, they want everything bigger, sweeter and more intense. Here, our guests request for desserts that are not too sweet. They want to taste the ingredients, not just the sugar or cream."
Because of this, I tweaked my recipes. I incorporated local ingredients and fruits in season—rambutan, mangoes, and passion fruit—but prepared using French techniques.
"One of my favourite dessert places in the world is…La Patisserie Des Reves."
"The desserts I can’t live without are… chocolate and ice cream. It’s an advantage that I’m a pastry chef because I can create my own versions. One time, I mixed coconut and lime to make a sorbet and it was really interesting. You won’t find that anywhere."
"My advice to budding chefs is… to know what you’re getting into. Keep in mind that it’s different from what you see on TV or read in the magazines."
Photos: Marina Bay Sands