It’s not every day you find someone who has amassed a whopping 301,000 followers on Instagram with only photographs of lunch boxes. When I speak to Shirley, she’s more than 3000 miles away in Japan on a trip she booked on impulse. Also known as Little Miss Bento, she is working on her fourth cookbook and hanami is the perfect way to decompress.
Going by the numerous depictions of Sanrio characters or buns-turned-cute-faces alone, Shirley is undisputedly the most committed bento artist in Singapore. Littlemissbento.com has won multiple awards, she’s been featured on international websites Design Taxi and BBC, appeared on television and published three cookbooks. For the accolades she’s received, her habit of creating bentos started very simply with the need to eat.
Formerly a dancer, she quit to take on a job with fundraising duties at a dreary office. Coming from a family of artists – her family was in Mandarin theatre and her sister was doing puppetry – she took the change of environment hard. “I needed an outlet to create something.” So armed with her lunch box as her canvas, Shirley found a way to inject creativity into her life.
Her creations didn’t go unnoticed and soon, with the encouragement of friends and family, she launched Miss Onigiri, the predecessor to the current website. Amazingly, Shirley has managed to juggle her day job and her online persona, including holding workshops, doing appearances and writing cookbooks. “I was constantly working and any free time I had while travelling or during lunch, I’d be doing something related to Little Miss Bento,” she tells me, “I’d take leave or use the weekends to do photo shoots or test recipes for the book.” She credits her steely determination and perseverance to the very competitive and gruelling dance training she’s had.
Dance has also taught her to be always open to improvement, an enviable quality that will definitely come in handy now that she’s finally left her day job to manage the blog full-time. As she takes up more opportunities to serve as a consultant with restaurants, the F&B industry continues to present exciting discoveries. The near future will see her explore videography, something her followers on social media are hungry for. She hesitates to share her grand goal with me – to launch a television series related to Japanese food and art – but I have a feeling she has the tenacity to make it come true.