Jet Lo, Head Chef at Ding Dong, talks about his shift from hospitality management in Perth to eventually being head chef in Singapore.

So where did your love for cooking come from?
I’m from Sabah in Malaysia. After I finished high school, I went to Perth for a hospitality management course. At first I didn’t think about being a chef, but commercial cookery is part of the course – before you go through to management you need to do a basic cooking class.

During these two years, I found my passion there. I love the stress of the kitchen…I don’t like to sit down and read the books, you know? I like to walk around, and the atmosphere of a kitchen has that energy. I didn’t continue the course for the management side, and started working in a kitchen to get experience. I went to Switzerland to learn more about the cuisine there as well.

The level of hospitality in Switzerland is pretty high. How was it like to study there?
Actually, it’s not that difficult to get into the school I went to. But to stay there, and to finish the course is really hard. The lifestyle there, it’s like the way they teach there was Hell’s Kitchen. My mentor there taught me to be really disciplined, how to be a good chef and be very detailed. They didn’t make me feel like it’s a school; they made me feel like I’m working here – having to wake up early, and really pushing, kicking ass every day.

When you came back to Singapore, did you work in any particular restaurant?
Before Ding Dong, I was working in a NUSS (National University of Singapore Society) club as junior sous chef. When Ding Dong came along, I became head chef at 25 years old.

That’s quite young!
For me, as a head chef it’s not hard because I feel like it’s more fun. I love cooking. I had said I would not cook Asian food because European and Western food was more interesting to me. That is until I came to Ding Dong. With the techniques that I’ve learned along the way, I realise I can apply them to any kind of cuisine. My boss [The Tippling Club’s head chef] Ryan Clift gives me a lot of trust. I can order what I want and experiment with it.

Ding Dong mango with pomelo and sago.

How’s it been in your kitchen since starting Ding Dong?
It’s good, because we have a very young team here. I’m the oldest, even though I’m only 28 years old. My team is really passionate about cooking as well. I have three deaf staff working with me. I don’t treat them like they’re different people. I treat them like any chef would. They’ve shown me that they are really willing to learn. They want to stay in my team to do something different here.

Are they fully deaf, or partially deaf…?
Some are partial, some are fully. Some just need a hearing aid. But I just learned some sign language. We’ve set it up so if I’m asking for rice I can [forms three fingers then a bowl with his hand], and they’ll know ‘three rice’. They can also read my lips. This is actually a lot faster to work with because I don’t need to look eye-to-eye all the time. Sign language is pretty fast, it’s pretty cool.

Plus, if you start yelling at them too much they can just turn off their hearing aids.
[Laughs] I’m actually calm around them. I just have to show my face, and when they see it they can probably tell I’m pissed off and they’ll change.