Local cooking up a life in Asia

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Jenna White works with Hawke's Bay-grown produce, with EIT trainee chefs (left) Atsuko Nakai, Matthew Rose and Awaitopea Lloyd.
Jenna White works with Hawke's Bay-grown produce, with EIT trainee chefs (left) Atsuko Nakai, Matthew Rose and Awaitopea Lloyd.

EIT-trained chef Jenna White is perfecting her patisserie skills as an executive chef at one of Singapore's most elegant and highly rated restaurants.

Jenna creates desserts for guests at Flutes, a fine-dining restaurant in the National Museum of Singapore.

Before moving to Singapore four years ago, she worked as a savoury chef for Peter Gordon in his acclaimed London restaurant The Providores, preparing occasional starters as well as mains.

"Six or seven of my dishes featured on Peter's menu and I hold that close to my heart. He's a Kiwi guy doing so well."

But while she misses working on savoury dishes, she finds patisserie work "pretty, colourful and bright - I can be more artistic, I think, with dessert".

Jenna always wanted to be a chef and as a Taradale High School student her first step towards that was a STAR programme at EIT. From there, she progressed to learning bar and restaurant skills and then to chef training.

Graduating with distinction, she became a "poster girl" for the institute, with her image appearing on EIT vehicles.

Having worked at several local eateries, including Vidal's and Te Awa, she says Hawke's Bay - with its many wineries and upcoming restaurants - is a great stepping stone for fledgling chefs.

"But I recommend travelling for sure," she told EIT hospitality students on a recent trip back home. "Hawke's Bay is a very small place in the cooking world especially compared to Europe."

Her own next step will be tutoring patisserie classes in Singapore.

"I'll be teaching Asians how to cook macarons," she says of the meringue-based confections.

That will be a further challenge for Jenna, who works up to 12 hours a day six days a week. But while she struggles to achieve a work/life balance, she is savouring the opportunities in Singapore.

She sees the city-state as her base for the next 10 or so years. "I am trying to build a name for myself there and am starting to get recognised," she says.

Jenna's advice to the students was to pursue their passion, to be confident in using industry contacts and to be ready to put in the hard hours.

"Asia is a tough market to break into. It's very male driven and very money orientated," she says of the hospitality industry. "They're not necessarily [there] for the passion."

On the upside, she has free range to do what she wants in creating sweet dishes, and enjoys challenging herself with ingredients sourced from other countries.

"There are virtually no locally produced vegetables. Basically everything I work with is imported and it can be difficult designing a menu when I have no control over the condition of ingredients. Wild strawberries may be fine when they leave Australia but mouldy and rotten when they are unloaded."

In Hawke's Bay, she took seasonal fruit like peaches and nectarines for granted - "in Singapore," she says, "they are like liquid gold."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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