She has since worked in prestigious restaurants such as Nobu in Kuala Lumpur, Saison in San Francisco and Nouri in Singapore. Chef Zoee has gained experience catering private dinners and events, food writing, restaurant openings and marketing and business development roles.
We caught up with Chef Zoee to talk about her culinary journey, what inspires her and her thoughts on the restaurant industry.
What drove you to study the culinary arts?
'Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. I have a very distinct memory of the moment I realised I wanted to be a cook. It was while watching Anthony Bourdain’s episode on El Bulli. During a commercial break, absolutely wide-eyed, I called my mother while she was at work to tell her about the Big Life Decision I had made (I was nine). Up until that point, my ‘experiments’ in the kitchen involved adding extra ingredients to boxed cake mixes and attempting a cheese souﬄé in the gas oven I was absolutely terriﬁed of. Then along came this chef who spun cotton candy around tiny ﬁsh and made pea soup bubbles. I was sold.'
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
'We have a family friend (my fairy foodfather in this storyline) who attended Le Cordon Bleu. He advised me to look into the school when he learned I was serious about a life in food. I visited Le Cordon Bleu London, met some of the chefs while on the tour and fell in love with everything, including the city. It was absolutely the right decision for me.'
How did the knowledge gained from the Grand Diplôme and Diploma in Culinary Management help your career?
'It gave me a foundation of culinary techniques and knowledge to build on. I led with a better understanding of food systems, business models, industry standards and norms. I think that having this base has helped me imagine more possibilities in the realm of food, both in a micro and macro sense.'
What would you say is your most valuable learning experience so far?
'That’s a tough one! I believe in compound learning, so I do think that every experience more than adds up. Having said that, starting out as a young, impressionable cook in a three Michelin-starred restaurant instilled a certain work ethic, rigor and resilience that I doubt I would have learned in a diﬀerent kind of kitchen.
I’m grateful for colleagues and superiors who modelled professional integrity and setting higher personal standards so that we could stand behind the plates we were sending out. This lesson has stayed with me throughout my career and has translated into many other areas in life.'
What would you say the best thing is about being a chef?
'I continue to realise what a privilege it is to cook. We get to make something tangible that is simultaneously special and every day, sustenance and art, deeply personal and communal. Food transcends cultures and time. This is not to sound grandiose. It is a recognition of our responsibility to build on traditions in ways that serve us and our communities well (plants and animals included).
The pandemic truly revealed the interconnectedness of our food systems and the globalised nature of our shared struggles. It feels to me like we are now at an inﬂection point where chefs can reassess our role in feeding the world and intentionally, constructively shape our way forward. That’s pretty special.'
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
'Don’t - it’s far more interesting to forge your own path, though it may take longer to ﬁgure out (I’m still working on it). The industry is probably better oﬀ with a little more funk and colour anyway. Shoot your shot. Service can only be as good as your mise. If someone is in the weeds, help - cooking is a team sport. Learn, always - mistakes are also data.'
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one word?
What does your average day look like?
'Needless to say, restaurants (especially ﬁne dining ones) have been turned upside-down by the pandemic. Everyone is learning to wear multiple hats and adaptation has been crucial. So, there’s not been an ‘average day’ for a while now. I can go from making hot water pastry for pies, to creating marketing and social media content, to ﬁne-tuning recipes for a special menu item.'
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
'Toggling back and forth between the diﬀerent mindsets required to manage each hat doesn’t come naturally to me, so that’s been a challenge. I ﬁnd my ﬂow doing tasks that require focus over long periods of time. This has been a much-needed lesson in cultivating agility.'
What inspires you every day?
'My colleagues who continue to go above and beyond, whatever the task. The camaraderie and sense of solidarity that get us through the hard days. Our industry that is determined to rebuild, better. Knowing that we can be part of the solution in forming a more generative food future.'
What part of your role are you most passionate about?
'I love that it allows me to actively contribute to creating a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable industry. One that is better for those of us in it, the communities we serve and the ecosystems we are all part of.'
Finally, what are your plans for the future or any ﬁnal words?
'Restaurant people are some of the most intelligent, resilient, positive and big-hearted folks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The people I met in Le Cordon Bleu London exemplify that, from my classmates, to the chefs, to the porters. Call me naïve, but I am hopeful for the growth of our industry and its potential positive impact on a larger scale because of them.'
Find out more about the Grand Diplôme® with Culinary Management, our professional cookery courses and other culinary programmes to see how you can follow in Chef Zoee's footsteps.