Jennifer Pou is Asia’s next rising little treat! A dessert wizard and a patisserie powerhouse in the making, she’s as sweet a person as the delicacies she creates in her kitchen. Photobook had the pleasure of chatting with her about her obsession with all things pastry.
1. Hey Jen, it’s a pleasure to have you with us! So first things first… introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about what you do.
I am a 23 year old graduate in International Business and Marketing from Taylor’s University in Malaysia and currently working in Laos as the pastry chef at a fine dining French restaurant – Blu. At The Mandala.
I was involved in the F&B scene since I finished my high school finals in 2010, where I worked as a barista in Starbucks for a year and a half. Then during my studies in university, I did my internship in Zalora for three months while working together with an event stylist as well as a professional chef friend of mine doing catering.
I would also sell my cakes to customers, friends, and family. I have done a couple of bake sales on Instagram and I am glad it all turned out well! People responded to my post and everything was sold out! I also worked at a neighborhood cafe bakery. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I am thankful for the support my parents have been giving me.
2. What sort of baking do you do? How did the thought of baking first come about?
Well, it came about when my mom got a chocolate almond cookie recipe from her friend and decided to try baking for the first time at home. We went out, got ourselves the cheapest weighing scale, a hand mixer, a square tin, and the needed ingredients. My mom did most of the baking, I was just there looking at her trying out the recipe. But it was that moment, that moment of observing, that got me wanting to pick up baking. If you’re curious if my mom continued baking, no she did not. Haha!
Once I showed my interest in baking, the kitchen was all mine to experiment (and make a mess!). I enjoy learning through experiments at home. During my time in high school, I read A LOT on baking and ingredients online, from websites to food blogs from around the world. That was where I first gained my basic knowledge that helped me improve as I grew more fond of baking.
As a self-taught baker from home, I bake mostly American desserts like cakes, pies, cheesecakes etc. Mostly rustic baked goods. I still remember my first few baking books were the 500 Cake Recipes, 500 Chocolate Recipes kind of books. To be honest, they were not the best recipes out there hahaha. But it was good in a way that it allowed me to experiment and tweak the recipes to make it my own. I also started off watching a lot of Food Network and read many many food blogs and websites to gain my knowledge on baking. I could read like the longest and the most lengthy essay on explaining how to make the perfect choux. Sometimes I don’t even know how I did it.
3. Did you ever think to yourself, this is what I want to be when I grow up? Or was it more like, going with the flow?
With my long interest and passion in baking at the age of 17, I knew I wanted to make this passion as a dream job as I grew up. I sold my first baked goods at the carnival in high school when I was 17 years old. For a couple of times, I also got the chance to walk around the school to sell my own signature blueberry cheese tart as I was a student in the baking class for curriculum. And as years go by, I started selling my baked goods to family and friends. I guess it was all these support that I got that made me feel motivated and inspired to keep this passion going and to further turn it into my dream job.
4. You seem to be enjoying where baking is taking you. What can you tell us about your experiences and how you changed with each new border that you cross?
Dare to dream, and dare to make that dream come true. It’s not a glamorous road, definitely. But during that journey towards your dream, you would learn so many things as a person and about your passion. With dedication and motivation you will achieve that dream one day. Never doubt yourself. Also, always surround yourself with people that make you happy and appreciate what you do!
5. Any personal favourites you tend to indulge in?
Ugh, this is tough. Honestly, I enjoy ALL desserts. So vague, I know. But okay, fine. Let me try to answer you…
Anything matcha and nuts, buttery pastries, and froyo! Oh I also love a good homemade pasta and pizza. Yuuummms!
6. Where do you draw your magic (inspiration) from when baking these wonderful yummies?
I constantly keep myself updated on the latest trend and innovation in the world of culinary, especially in desserts. I love seeing chefs from different countries play with flavors and textures. So, I will get inspiration from them and construct something with what I can get in Malaysia, or wherever I am. Sometimes, I just combine all flavors I like into one dessert (but making sure there’s a balance between being tart and sweet) and surprise myself with something good.
Working experience contributes a lot too. I am glad I got the opportunity from my friend, Benjamin, who offered me to work at his fine dining French restaurant here in Vientiane, Laos, and working along side with a great chef – Ashwin Nicholas.
Chef Ashwin has been generous in sharing with me the knowledge and skills he has gained from his working experiences in different countries as well as during his international competition journey. Here in the professional kitchen, I am constantly surrounded by people who are equally passionate about food, therefore you’re also constantly getting inspired by these people, both in the hot kitchen and pastry kitchen. It is my first professional job here as a pastry chef, and I would not have asked for a better place to start and learn from! It is truly a wonderful time working here, experiencing the professional kitchen vibe and being under the mentor of an aspiring chef.
7. Tell us a story about one of your most favourite moment?
When my neighbor asked me to host a macaron baking class for she and her friends! I was only 17 years old! I wasn’t sure what was I doing to be honest, I just agreed to her. It all started when I first learnt how to make macarons by myself. Lots of trial and error and experiments, so I would share with her the macarons that I have made. Basically, she was my tester for many of my baked goods. Until the day when I finally made good macarons, she liked it so much and shared it with her friends and all of them loved it! We all had fun during the class.
8. With a little bit of research (some may call it stalking), looks like you’re quite into Pilates, Diving and outdoor activities. Talk to us about that!
Oooo yes! I absolutely enjoy diving a lot! It’s probably.. no, IT IS the best outdoor activity I have taken up in my life. I mean, seriously.. the underwater life is beautiful! You feel so close to nature, and being surrounded by amazing underwater creatures and you discover so many wonderful things about them in each dive! The way they protect themselves from predators by camouflaging with their environment – it’s crazy amazing to witness all these. I have seen thresher sharks, mola-mola, manta rays… and all sorts of other gentle underwater creatures! It has been almost three years since I picked up diving, dove for close to a hundred dives and I will definitely be diving more!
And yeah! I started doing pilates and home workouts when I followed a fitness instructor, Cassey Ho of Blogilates on YouTube. I have been following her workout calendars for a year now and it has been great! She is such a fun person to workout with and I swear I was so star-struck and actually teared up when I met Cassey in real life for the first time when she came to Malaysia to conduct a session for a Zespri event this year!
9. Any personal heroes?
Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco. His dedication and obsession towards bread making is something I admire so, so much. Bread making requires a lot of patience and care towards the ‘mother dough’, it’s like taking care of a baby. In his book, one recipe would take up like seven pages. He explains in detail how fermentation works and how would you correct it if you’re in a different climate etc, basically sharing as much knowledge as he could with you. You could feel the intensity of his love towards bread making through the words in his book. There’s just so much respect for this man and his devotion in making artisan bread. Haha, I am sorry if I’m rambling here.
10. What do your future plans look like right now?
Something exciting! I got a job in the US!! I would be working in the pastry kitchen at Republique – a modern French restaurant in Downtown LA that was awarded “The Best Restaurant” in 2014 by the Los Angeles Magazine. Tentatively I would be there in February 2017, so I have a couple more months to enjoy all the food in Malaysia when I head back this November! hahaha. I am really excited and so thankful to have this opportunity in the US.
Check out Jennifer’s insanely mouth-watering feed
on Instagram at jennpoupou and j.pouu