CHEF LIINSON HENG: FROM THE KITCHENS OF FRANCE TO OLA BEACH CLUB, SINGAPOREAN CHEF HONOURS HIS MOM THROUGH COOKING
Food is only as good as the person preparing it. Here, the talented and inspirational Chef Liinson of Ola Beach Club shares how he made his culinary dreams a reality.
"I cried one time. That was my most challenging day in France. I completed a dish and was about to serve it out to guests. But the chef checked my dish and threw the plate at me because my plating was off by two degrees.
The whole kitchen had to stop and restart because your dish must be out at the same time as the other dishes. Everyone blames you because it’s all your fault. It was such a bad day. But that experience toughened me up and made me more meticulous in my approach.
My attachment at the French restaurant taught me discipline. It also taught me how to be mentally tough. Otherwise, you’ll break down easily. They love to break you and re-mould you over and over again, so your mind must be strong.
I've loved cooking since I was five. I would follow my mom to the market during the weekend and watch how she chooses her vegetables, meats, and seafood. She taught me how to handle sharp instruments like knives and turn on the fire to control the heat.
She also taught me how to cook. My favourite thing to cook was fried rice because it was so easy – you just dump everything in. The first time my family tried my cooking, they thought it was too salty. From then on, I controlled my seasoning and started improving.
I realised I wanted to be a chef after I got my O-level results. I was 17 and deciding if I should transition to a junior college, polytechnic or Shatec. I went home, discussed the matter with my family and told them that perhaps I should go to a cooking school instead.
They rejected the idea because they felt that being a chef involves standing for long hours all day – you have no life. They are not chefs themselves, so that was their concept of the profession. But I bit my tongue and just went for it, hoping their perception would change.
I specialised in French cuisine at SHATEC. I love how in French culture, you get to use different produce that artisan farmers grew and reared with passion and love all year round. As a chef, you get to choose the best meats and vegetables to prepare flavourful dishes.
I also love French cuisine because I’ve always leaned more towards fine dining. That’s why I went to France after National Service to learn pastry-making under Jean-Michel Perruchon. I then went on to work under Joël Robuchon at his Michelin 3-star restaurant.
Today, I’m the Head Chef at Ola Beach Club in Sentosa. I was actually working at a French restaurant in Singapore called OCF. In 2016, my boss asked if I was interested in setting up the F&B at Ola Beach Club as one of the sister outlets, so that’s how I came here.
This place is my baby. I started everything from scratch, from operations to kitchen layout. The menu, too, of course. Ola Beach Club is Hawaiian-themed, so you can expect more Pan-Asian food; but, I still managed to incorporate my love for French cuisine.
My favourite dish is the re-constructed Loco Moco. The traditional, old-school version uses rice patties like a burger with a sunny-side-up egg. However, my interpretation uses seaweed rice, wagyu patty and a tempura egg, so there's a lava effect when you cut it open.
The most rewarding aspect of my job is creating moments for families and kids. It’s a lifestyle beach club, so everything is incorporated to offer families a fun experience. Your kids can head out to the beach for fun and enjoy some water sports while you enjoy a good lunch.
I've always been more of a fine dining person, but my perception of dining has changed ever since I got married and had kids. The dining experience offered at Ola Beach Club is definitely better suited for families and people with kids.
I think my mom is proud of me. Initially, she rejected my choice of being a chef. When I got into the industry, I started working long hours and had no time for her. Her biggest fears were materialised, so I had to make sure I became somebody in the industry.
So on Mother's Day four years ago, I brought her here and created a fine dining experience for her. No, I wasn't nervous. I think she was impressed that her son became someone who could cook nine meals for her. I just wanted to make her proud."
By Arman Shah
Arman Shah is a former travel writer with fond memories of solo adventures in Southeast Asia. His work has appeared in print and online in publications such as Expat Living Singapore, AsiaRooms.com, SG Magazine, and HungryGoWhere.com among others. He now manages The Everyday People, a website featuring people stories and lifestyle content.