Kay-Lene Tan knows how to follow her heart. In her early twenties, while working in documentary film production, she had what she calls a quarter-life crisis. She liked the work but just couldn’t see herself doing it forever.
Taking a sharp turn, Tan enrolled at the At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy in her native Singapore, and came out with a diploma in pastry and bakery art. Her first job in the biz was at the eponymous Singapore restaurant of chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon – once named chef of the century by French restaurant guide Gault Millau. Classical French basics mastered, she moved onto Pollen, a more progressive restaurant in the city, and found her own style under mentor and acclaimed pastry chef Andrés Lara.
Here in Melbourne, she spent eight years working across CBD institutions Coda and Tonka. Now she’s joined lauded hotel chain The Ritz-Carlton, which recently launched in Melbourne, as executive pastry chef. We asked her how it’s all going.
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How would you describe your cooking?
I love creating dishes that tell a story and evoke memories. I’m especially passionate about using ingredients and techniques that reflect upon my journey as a chef. It really makes me happy when someone tastes a dessert I’ve created and says, “This reminds me of ...”
What’s your role at The Ritz-Carlton?
As executive pastry chef, I’m responsible for all the sweet and bakery items available in the hotel, which includes all the desserts in Atria, the Lounge, room service, and all events and functions within the hotel.
Is this the first time you've worked in a hotel?
This is the second time. During my apprenticeship in Singapore, I spent time working at Sentosa Resort & Spa. Since then, however, I’ve worked exclusively in restaurants. The best part of working in a hotel is that I have been able to embrace the full scope of my pastry skills, as opposed to only creating plated desserts. It has also been great working with a much bigger team of chefs who are all incredibly talented. I’ve learnt so much from each one of them.
How did you go about designing your initial menu?
When executive chef Michael Greenlaw and I first discussed the menu, we were both excited to create dishes and desserts that truly reflected Victoria’s incredible seasonal produce and local producers. We really wanted to develop a menu that told stories of the city we are so proud to live and work in.
What’s one dessert everyone should order and why?
I do love all the desserts, but my personal favourite on the menu at the moment is a milk and honey lamington created in a collaboration between me, chef Michael and chef Allan Eccles. It consists of a wattleseed sponge that sandwiches a luscious Gippsland Dairy milk jam. It’s soaked in a milk and honey mixture before being coated with dark chocolate crumbs, milk skin and bee pollen. It is rich, delicious and the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
What are you excited about doing in the coming months and years?
I’m really excited to continue working and developing the menu with chef Michael and my very talented pastry team. We have many things still in the works for the next half of 2023, and I can’t wait to see them unfold and to share them with all our guests.
Kay-Lene Tan is no longer in this role.