Chef in the Spotlight – Chef Pearl Woo of QBa, The Westin KL

Today’s Chef in the Spotlight is none other than The Westin KL’s feisty female chef, Chef Pearl Woo of QBa. Here is our interview with the lovely lady. 

1. Hi Chef Pearl… So can you tell us why you wanted to be a Chef?

I was working in Sales and Marketing back in my hometown, Kuching (Borneo, Land of The Head Hunters) for 10 years. In 2002, I suffered stress ulcers due to my career. A close friend of mine then advised me that, I’d have to make the biggest decision of my life – choose a life of stress, illness and woes, or pursue my life’s dreams, and in the process preserve my health and happiness. Her advice was to forget about the money and do something that I’m passionate about.

Pearl_Action shot2. Can you tell us about another skill that you have, that no one knows of?

I am skilled in Water Colour Painting, Mixed Media ( Learned this from my personal Art Tutor from 1986 – 1990 ), pupilaged under Late Master Foo Syn Choon , renown Sarawakian Artist. I was honoured to be invited by Master Foo to display and exhibit two of my art works in his Art Exhibition back in the late 80’s.

( Ciki: I hope to see you amazing works of art, one day, Chef Pearl!:) )

3. Ok, so Chef Pearl, we all know that running a kitchen can be super stressful so how do you de-stress and let off steam after a hard day’s work?

I will play a few great/my favourite songs, blast the volume and sing along on my drive home e.g. Simply Red’s “ You make me feel brand new “; Kenny G’s “I love the way you move” featuring Earth, Wind and Fire; “Diamonds” by Rihanna.

4. Do you have any hobbies?

Brisk walking, bowling, reading, surfing the internet, teaching and learning.

The Sampling Steak Platter

5. Tell us about your hometown.

In my opinion, Kuching is Borneo’s gem, with a kaleidoscope of cultures, crafts and cuisines to offer visitors. With a vast amount of buildings with a colonial vibe and shop houses from the time of the White Rajahs, Kuching is a must visit for its amazing culture & history. The Sarawak Cultural Village is our Living Museum it showcases Kuching’s multi-racial and cultural lifestyle living together in harmony for over more than a century. As for food, our Sarawakian delicacies like the Sarawak Laksa and Sarawak Kolo Mee and the real authentic Sarawakian flavours can only be enjoyed here!

6. What do you like to eat when you are not cooking in the kitchen?

Comfort food like pasta prepared by loved ones or street food like Satay & Nasi Lemak.

7. By the way, I’m curious as to who is your favourite Cook/Chef and why?

My all time role model is definitely my Cuban Master Chef Maricel E. Presilla – She was award the title :Best Chef in the Mid – Atlantic region”, by The James Beard Foundation. She holds a Doctorate in Medieval history from New York University.
From her, I learned how to be precise in my cooking, no compromises when food quality is concerned. Also traits such as Self-discipline is very important. Finally a good chef should trust & discover his or her own sixth sense for cuisines in terms of flavour and taste and how to lead a culinary team to greater success.

Pan-seared Ocean Trout with Pomegranate, sweet corn and Broccolini8. What is your favourite travel destination for food?

My beautiful hometown Kuching, for Sarawak Laksa and Sarawak Kolo Mee “. {A must try in Kuching!}

9. Tell us about how your journey, to becoming a Chef.

So, taking off from where I left off. Because of my stress ulcer I decided to quit my job. I packed my bags & flew over to Kuala Lumpur. I remembered the magical touch & flavours involved when my beloved dad used to prepare tasty comfort food during his free time, using the simplest of ingredients and infused with his passion and love for our family. That in itself was the driving force behind me being a Chef today.

I enrolled myself in a local Hotel Management College, pursuing Professional Culinary Arts Studies. I was then later sent for industrial internship with The Ritz Carlton, Kuala Lumpur under the supervision of Executive Chef Graham Oliver.

After my industrial internship with The Ritz Carlton, I received a phone call from Chef Peter Liew (my former Chef Lecturer from my college) asking whether I would be interested to come for a pre-opening team job interview for The Westin Kuala Lumpur around mid of 2003. I officially joined The Westin Kuala Lumpur on 23rd July, 2003 as a 3rd Commis Chef for our All Day Dining – The Living Room, preparing fine fusion a la carte menu created by our then Executive Chef Valdimir Scano. I was then officially transferred to join Qba’s Culinary Team to elevate my culinary expertise to that of Latin America Cuisine under the supervision of Chef Peter Liew. Since then my passion for Latin American Cuisine has really taken off!

10. What was your biggest catastrophe in the kitchen?

We were short of staff and running Qba on almost maximum capacity. We had to man Qba Latin Grill Kitchen, Qba Tapas Kitchen and In Room Dining, all simultaneously. This was back in the early days of Qba, but nevertheless it really scared me as we needed to transform our negative fears into positive action, in order to deliver our food without diners knowing that there was a problem in the kitchen. I really feel proud that we did it.. what a memorable experience.

11. When it comes down to technical skill vs. putting your heart into your cooking, which do you think is most vital to producing good food, and why?

For me both are equally important. Initially, we must have passion for cooking, to initiate the desire for learning, and then hone in-depth technical skills, to achieve better results. Passion leads to great energy that creates magical elements which indirectly enhances the flavour of our food.

12. Do you have any advice for budding cooks/aspiring chefs?

Apprentice chefs must have the right perception and a better understanding of what it means to be a Chef before they venture into this career. The quality of New Generation Chefs is now more demanding in terms of professionalism, continuous learning, and sharing of Culinary techniques & skills with their peers. Chefs must be happy & serve their creations with pride. Competition amongst the food industry is increasing, and I treat it as healthy competition. These also act as a positive motivation for us chefs to strive to achieve a higher level of excellence in the F&B industry.

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