This Stylish Young Chef Is Giving Chinese New Year Cookies A Makeover
If Chinese New Year cookies like hebi hiam rolls and pineapple tarts are, well, too cookie cutter for you, then you should know this Cordon Bleu-trained chef.
by IMRAN JALAL /
February 9, 2018
We’re living in an age of the Instagram chef, and their arty food posts. Think Bryce Shuman and the modernist-meets-Ikebana twist he gives to his pictures. Or how about Iliana Regan and her minimalist shots of dishes like omelette with shiitake, nori, Nuka daikon, and Japanese sweet potatoes?
Back home, one of our latest obsession on social media is Singaporean Jiselle Ooi who left a job in banking to become a pastry chef in 2016. Browse through the gram of her cheekily-named brand Oui Ooi, and you’d be greeted by crisp flat lay images of her popular biscuits and cookies — each dissected like pie charts to show their ingredients. In fact, baking cookies while attending boarding school in California was how she started her career as a pastry chef. Or as she puts it “to feed people”.
“I was spending time with my dorm faculty and I saw a cookie recipe on the back of a Nestle’s Chocolate Chip bag. I decided to give the recipe and shot and soon, they let me used their stocked pantry to create new baked goods. I would scour the internet for recipes that caught my eye and, being in a dormitory of hungry teenagers, everything I baked was gone within an hour of coming out of the oven,” she says.
Lately though, the Le Cordon Bleu-trained 29-year-old has been teasing our taste buds with images of Chinese New Year treats like pineapple tarts and hebi hiam cookies (you can make your order on www.ouiooi.com). Just don’t expect the usual traditional fare that look like the Chinatown variety, though. Think of this as the reworked and deconstructed versions that come with the brand’s distinctive pared-down look. They’re as much about aesthetics as they are about flavour (trust us, we’ve had our fair share in the office).
Describe your take on these festive cookies.
“Taking on tradition is not only daunting; it’s sacrilegious in our household. There’s no competing with grandma’s secret recipe. But I wanted to keep those traditional local flavours and bring in the techniques and ideas that I learned on my travels. The goal with each of our cookies was to create something warm and familiar yet new and exciting.”
You described Oui Ooi’s cookies as “gourmet”. How is this so?
“Each of our cookies only uses premium ingredients. This wasn’t just a marketing ploy: the ingredients really elevate the taste and texture of our cookies. We use French butter and sea salt, sesame seeds from Taiwan, real English tea leaves, and more. We don’t use any chemical flavours, additives, or preservatives. Everything is made to order and that’s a philosophy we have and will continue to uphold.”
You reworked 10 different types of traditional CNY cookies. How did this come about?
“I drew ideas from my childhood and picked flavors that I find comforting. Mint chocolate ice cream from Swensen’s when I was growing up, the bottles of hebi hiam rolls that I’d stuff my face with till I had a sore throat, sesame tang yuan I’d look forward to after a dim sum meal. We can use these 10 flavors to chart the timeline of my life.”
What would be your top three flavours then?
“First is the pineapple cookie. It harkens back to Singapore’s colonial roots, we drew inspiration from traditional English jam tarts to create our pineapple cookies. Sweet, tart, and crumbly, our pineapple cookies are sure to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Next is the sesame. In life, there cannot be yin without yang. We’ve embodied that notion in our delicious sesame cookies, which are loaded with premium black and white sesame seeds specially imported from Taiwan. And lastly, it’s got to be the hebi hiam. It’s a modern twist on a traditional classic, our hebi hiam cookies may not look like your grandma’s prawn rolls. But we promise that she’ll love the savoury, spicy, crunchy hebi hiam cookie that we’ve perfected in our bakery.”