We’ve known Kay-Lene Tan is one of the country’s best pastry chefs for a long time. Now, thanks to her time on the Masterchef spinoff Dessert Masters, the rest of the country has caught on.
The former head pastry chef at Tonka and Coda and ex-executive pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton Melbourne has enjoyed a breakout run on the TV show whipping up creations like a festive banana layer cake that judge Amaury Guichon called a “Christmas miracle”.
Before switching to pastry, Tan worked in documentary film production. Being on reality television “felt like both my worlds colliding, and I absolutely loved it” she tells Broadsheet.
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While Dessert Masters ends early next month, Tan shows no signs of slowing down and is working with chef Adam D’Sylva to open new restaurant Decca in Alphington next year. We caught up with the plated dessert pro below.
Do you remember the first thing you baked?
I have two very distinct first food memories. One is rolling tang yuan (glutinous rice dumplings) with my grandmother when I was about five or six years old – she kept commenting that my dumplings were not round enough.
The second is baking cupcakes with my mum. She would always put the finished cupcakes on the highest shelf in the kitchen so I could not reach them! My mum and grandmother were the ones who taught me all I know and love about food, and they continue to be the inspiration behind my cooking.
How would you describe your culinary style right now?
My desserts are mostly modern composed restaurant-style desserts. I love creating desserts that tell a story and often infuse part of my Singaporean heritage and my food memories into them.
Nothing is more gratifying to me than when someone tastes one of my creations and goes, “This reminds me of ... “ or “This brings me back to my childhood”.
What’s a cookbook you think every pastry chef should have?
Room for Dessert by Will Goldfarb. Will is a brilliant chef and I had the opportunity to work with him briefly in Bali with my mentor Andres Lara. I love the way he thinks about ingredients and his book is pure inspiration.
What about home cooks?
The Tivoli Road Baker by Michael and Pippa James. I used to patronise Tivoli Road Bakery often when James and Pippa were still there, and every recipe I have personally tried from the book has come out nearly as good as the pastries and bread I have had at Tivoli Road.
What restaurant in Melbourne are you loving right now?
Al Dente Enoteca is currently topping my list. I love a good Italian feast, and Andrea and his team curate one of the best ones.
What’s your go-to dessert to bring to a friend’s house?
It would be my fruit cobbler. It is always a crowd favourite and there are so many possible flavour variations. You can actually find the recipe for this in the Home Made cookbook by Broadsheet.
Do you have a favourite pastry tool?
I am obsessed with spoons. I love a good Rocher spoon or latte spoon (something about the long handle!) and believe me when I say that I have my favourite ones.
What pantry ingredients are you loving right now?
I always love having sea salt on hand. I am a fan of the salty-sweet flavour profile, so I always season my desserts with salt. I also always have an array of spices in my pantry: green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds. I feel that spices can elevate the flavour of any dessert.
What can you be found doing when you’re not cooking?
When I’m not cooking, I am usually either in my plant room or behind the lens of my Canon 6D Mark II taking photographs of my two dachshunds. I have a huge collection of indoor plants, and I find solace and peace after a busy day just being in that room.
I love going for hikes or walks with my dogs, and taking photographs of them and the scenery. There is just something about nature that always brings peace to my soul.
Looking for more on Dessert Masters? We stopped by judge Melissa Leong’s house for afternoon tea.