Women of the Industry: Elodie Bellegarde, Food Stylist

By

Lu YaWen

While May is the month where attention is on our mothers, we decided that it's only fitting for us to also shine the spotlight on the women in the F&B industry. We bring to you a four-part feature on women pushing the boundaries of their craft.

The last of our special highlights focuses on the ever talented food stylist, Elodie Bellegarde.

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If you’ve ever browsed a food magazine, chances are you’ve seen Elodie’s photographs. She’s gotten the knack of how to make dishes and ingredients look better than they do in real life with strategically placed props and dreamy lighting. Even whole eggs on a plate look as though they belong in a renaissance still life painting Michelangelo would be proud of.

Art plays a pivotal role in her styling masterpieces; she has a Masters in Culinary Arts from the University of Brighton. Her manipulation of light, shadows, textures and colours have made her one of the most sought after food stylists in the four and a half years she’s been living here; her clients range from hotels to luxury lifestyle magazines. In 2015, she published her first cookbook called Kitchen Stories with Denise Hung, a compilation of recipes categorised by moods and memories. And once in a while, she holds workshops and writes (about food, of course!) for publications.

Her first memory of food is of her grandmother’s simple meals made from fresh produce grown in a farm her grandparents had. Then later at 5 years of age, she baked a yogurt cake in school, an incident she remembers distinctly. “It was the first time I baked on my own,” she quips. It was only natural that she ended up doing a dissertation on food, which led her to shadowing professional photographers and ultimately becoming one herself.

She recounts one of her first jobs was for a Chinese restaurant, where the tentacles of a supposedly dead lobster started moving. The toughest gig, however, still goes to a job she undertook while seven months pregnant with her second child. Heavily pregnant, she worked on it for three weeks and sometimes stayed up till 4am in the studio. Completing Kitchen Stories also proved to be a test as she almost ran out of inspiration shooting six to seven dishes each day.

It’s been almost seven years at the job and she’s still in love with it. Although planning is necessary – she’s taken five hours to plan for one dish – every photo shoot offers an opportunity for her to work her magic on the fly: “I like to be prepared but I like not knowing [what will happen during the shoot].” She’s also been trying to inculcate the habit of sustainability in an industry that values how food looks more than how it tastes, specifically in food styling where most dishes are thrown away after. Reducing waste stems from a larger desire to care for the environment, a cause shared by the rest of the family; they make their own compost and go to a park or reservoir every week. It’s also these moments surrounded by nature when Elodie finds the inspiration she needs for her next work of art.

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Women of the Industry: Reena Rivera, Bartender at Crackerjack

By

Lu YaWen

While May is the month where attention is on our mothers, we decided that it's only fitting for us to also shine the spotlight on the women in the F&B industry. We bring to you a four-part feature on women pushing the boundaries of their craft.

Reena Rivera the Bartender at Crackerjack will be our personality of the week.

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The number of women here who’ve made a career as professional mixologists can probably be counted with two hands but there’s no doubt the numbers are growing. A young rising star in the bar scene is Reena, whose short two-year experience in the industry has been decorated with awards and achievements.

Reserved and soft-spoken, she’s not what you usually expect from bartenders, the majority of whom are boisterous tattooed personalities. The F&B management graduate got her break working under Mark Graham at the now defunct Club 39 where she learnt what she considers the most important lesson – to always taste your drinks. A pretty common sense practice that sometimes, somehow, is forgotten. There, she represented Singapore and was the only female in the La Maison Cointreau Asia Regional Finals that pit bartenders from around the region. She shows me a picture taken in Phuket where it was held: it’s a candid shot of the group in goofy poses with her grinning from ear to ear.

While gender seems to be a topic constantly brought up to Reena, perhaps because no one has solved the mystery of why the industry is a male-dominated one, she is more than eager to dispel any myths. She tells me firmly that there’s no disadvantage to being a woman. Rather, it’s her small stature and young age that prove to be more problematic. She explains, “I can’t reach or carry things… [and] people don’t take me seriously or ask to talk to my manager.”

Regardless, trying to make your mark in a competitive bar scene calls for relatively thick skin. It’s something she’s had to acquire, recalling that she quit her first stint at a bar after 10 days because she couldn’t take the working environment. That Reena seems worlds apart from the Reena now sitting across me at Crackerjack, who gushes about the bar team she gets to work with and takes part in competitions such as Speed Rack Asia or the Diplomático World Tournament, emerging runner-up or in eighth place respectively.

She’s still got lots to learn but she’s already got her eyes set on the prize. Whether as a brand ambassador or owner of a bar, she wants to educate others on sustainability and wastage. “I want to run my own bar and help people,” she shares. It’s refreshing to find that Reena’s in touch with world issues, thanks to her mother who does crisis relief training and goes on mission trips in less developed countries. Perhaps in the near future, Reena will find a perfect way to let her passion shed light on issues close to her heart.

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Women of the Industry: Shirley Lim, Founder of Little Miss Bento

By

Lu YaWen

While May is the month where attention is on our mothers, we decided that it's only fitting for us to also shine the spotlight on the women in the F&B industry. We bring to you a four-part feature on women pushing the boundaries of their craft.

This week we bring you, Shirley Lim the Founder of Little Miss Bento.

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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.

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Women of the Industry: Tannie Tang, Founder of Second Helpings

By

Lu YaWen

While May is the month where attention is on our mothers, we decided that it's the best time for us to also shine the spotlight on the women in the F&B industry. We bring to you a four-part feature on women pushing the boundaries of their craft.

We kick things things off with Tannie Tang, the founder of Second Helpings.

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Have you ever wondered what goes into the peanut butter you put in your PBJ sandwich? Tannie has. In fact, much of her life revolves around this innocuous goober. As the founder of Second Helpings, a local company that produces peanut butter without any preservatives or processed ingredients, she advocates for consumers to be more aware of what they’re eating.

Her relationship with this spread started with her husband, who was consuming a large amount for body building. Unimpressed by store-bought brands, she came up with her own recipe she calls beenut butter (‘bee’ stands for honey she uses in place of sugar). As more friends started asking for it, she decided to leave her corporate job to do this full-time with her husband. Now four years later, she runs the business on her own and has Second Helpings retailing at places like Providore and Robinsons.

Tannie’s full range of Beenut butter.

If you’re asking why peanut butter of all things, you’re not alone. “When we first started, many people wondered if anybody will buy it,” she shares. Groundnuts were chosen for being the most agreeable legume for most adults and children. Even after the tidal wave of trendy alternative nut butters, peanuts still remain a staple beloved by all. They also make great bases for flavour experimentation, something Tannie excels at. Tak-Kiu Beenut Butter made from Milo and Fearless Beenut Butter made from chilli are two most recent concoctions she’s come up with.

Mixing up wacky flavours created to trigger flashes of nostalgia or a tingling heat at the back of your tongue is considered the easy part. What’s tough is keeping the business afloat and fresh. In 2015, Tannie opened a storefront called Hive that closed down a year later and resurfaced as an e-store called Hive Market. There, she sells beenut butters in different sized jars as well as cookies and beeswax-lined organic cotton wraps. Occasionally, big orders come through from expat and local families living abroad. For now, most of her income streams in via retail and stockists; she has also stopped participating in markets to take more time for herself.

Part of the challenge is changing the perception consumers have of locally produced goods: “Customers tell me they can’t taste the difference [between mine and store-bought brands] or that they can make it at home. They have to understand that items are more expensive due to production costs.” But if there’s one thing Tannie’s learnt from starting at the bottom, it’s that she loves the freedom of creative expression. So even though altering mindsets seems an almost monumental task for a one-woman show, you can be assured she’s not throwing in the towel yet.

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Behind the Menu: Ollie Dabbous

Touted by The Guardian as the "Most Wanted Chef" along with a string of big name chefs and critics such as Raymond Blanc and Gordon Ramsay singing his praises, nothing seems to be not stopping for Ollie Dabbous.

To know more about what inspires this rock star chef, we go Behind the Menu with Ollie.

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What is your favourite cuisine/dish?

At the restaurant we cook primarily with great products from within the UK, serving food that is both restrained and organic. On days off I enjoy anything simple, fresh and healthy: Italian, Greek and Lebanese in particular.

I always enjoyed eating, so picking up a knife or saucepan is a natural progression.

Where do you get inspiration for your dishes?

Just want to make the food taste as good as it can in the most natural way. Some young chefs may use the ingredient as their tool to showcase their skills. I would rather use my skills to showcase the ingredient.

When designing a menu, what factors do you take into account?

What is at its best right now, and how to showcase those ingredients in the simplest manner that will be a pleasure to eat and have an innate sense of rightness.

What is a “must have” herb or spice in your kitchen? Why?

Fenugreek – we use the seed to marinade a lot of our meats: Chicken, Goose, Iberico pork, Quail.

As a chef you must have cultivated a refined palate, are you picky with your food?

Yes, I won’t eat rubbish, but that is also from a health point of view. Nothing wrong with cheese on toast or the like though.

What is your funniest kitchen experience?

There was a big feature on myself and the restaurant in a glossy magazine one day. That night I shared a taxi back home with my GM, and had bought some sandwiches and food from a nearby takeaway shop, as I hadn’t eaten all day and was starving. It was pouring with rain so the bag got wet and broke and food went everywhere. There was a distinct contradiction between the magazine depiction and the reality of myself at 1am salvaging takeaway food from the pavement.

 

If you’re travelling to London keep a look out for Ollie’s brand new restaurant, “Henrietta”, opening in May 2017. Find out more on what Ollie does here!

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