Amanda Yong, 29 year-old sous-chef at Cooee, opens up on her background in pastry, creativity, and her next steps.
Amanda Yong may have worked at Rockpool Bar & Grill, Wildflower and the Shangri-La in Singapore, but it’s at Cooee – the first venture from the Andrew Forrest-backed Z1Z hospitality group – where the Perth-born, Singapore-raised pastry chef has seen her career take something of a diversion.
“I came into Cooee to be in charge of the pastry section,” says Yong. “But a month into it I got offered a position to be a sous-chef – second in charge after the head chef – along with one other. In the industry it’s quite difficult for pastry chefs to go into the hot kitchen, so it’s really an adventure for me.”
She may call it an adventure, but Yong’s background – she says she’ll always be a pastry chef at heart – brings a level of precision and exactitude to the kitchen that other chefs can lack, even if she may not say it. It’s not the first time she’s worked a hot kitchen – Yong ran her own café in Perth that closed as the pandemic hit – but she sees the move as one that’s allowed her to bloom as a chef, and that’s given her an opportunity to see what other career paths might lie ahead. “It’s brought me different learning aspects,” she says. “It definitely brings my knowledge, my career, and my journey to a different stage – and how I look at things as a whole.”
Yong has tried to create an environment that fuels her creativity, and allows her to learn more about ingredients, producers and process.
While Yong still sees a future in pastry, she says being a sous-chef has opened her eyes to how kitchens can work better together. She’s tried to create an environment that fuels her creativity, and allows her to learn more about ingredients, producers and process. This might manifest itself as looking at the savoury kitchen and seeing how it can influence the pastry section within the bounds of the brief at Cooee. “Our ethos at Cooee is sustainable living and no-waste cooking,” Yong says. She then cites an example of using corn husks – usually wasted – in a dessert: “We were able to take them into the pastry side and do like a corn-husk crème caramel. That really worked.”
Yong is enamoured of Perth, a place where she has been able to foster her career from working with those big names to having a go running her own place. Asked how she characterises Perth to those outside of it? “It would be a stepping stone for many chefs to come to Perth,” she says. “It’s a unique city, it has its upbeat moments, it has its slow moments. What I’ve learnt and appreciated from when I first came back to Perth is really going back to basics, and accessing produce that is really amazing.”
For now, the work at Cooee is hard, but everyone is in it with Yong, learning and growing together. “To blend the pastry section together with the hot side, it’s not the easiest. We have a very strong team and the hot side chefs now want to know more about pastry, and the pastry chefs want to know more about the hot side,” she says. “I’m really grateful to go on this little adventure.”