If she was given the chance to work with anyone in the world, there’s no doubt who chef Genevieve Lee would wish for the individual to be.
“I grew up watching Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows, so working with him would be a dream come true,” the chef laughs. “Instead of cartoons, I’d watch his shows with my father and attempt to replicate his recipes after. We’d go ingredient-hunting over the weekend before cooking up a feast for the family.”
Having cultivated a passion for food, Genevieve, also known as Gen, later participated in culinary competition MasterChef Singapore. Despite being the youngest competitor at 20 years old, Gen emerged as the 1st runner-up before she furthered her culinary talents at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Today, the cheery chef is the owner of Sourbombe Bakery, a home bakery launched in August that specialises in sourdough, Italian-inspired doughnuts filled with deliciously flavoured custard.
We sat down with Gen as she shared more on her entrepreneurial journey and the secret behind her popular sourbombes (read: they sell out in a matter of hours).
#1 You’re Never Too Young To Started
While the owner of Sourbombe Bakery may be only 22 years of age, you’d be surprised to find out that Gen first dipped her toes into culinary business 4 years prior. During her student days, Gen was already managing a food and beverage business, an opportunity that was given by the school. After successfully pitching her idea, Gen was awarded her bid for a small stall that was located in her polytechnic.
“I sold mainly burgers and milkshakes,” Gen recalls. “It was pretty challenging as I managed everything from the cooking to marketing on my own. I barely broke even but the experience was very rewarding – some things I learnt still apply to the bakery today!”
Soon after, Gen further pursued her passion and embarked on the MasterChef journey. “I wanted to join Masterchef Asia, but fell short of the age requirement,” Gen says. “So when Masterchef Singapore came around, I signed up immediately. I really wanted to participate as I wanted the experience. Plus, the cooking challenges looked really fun,” she laughs.
Besides meeting talented fellow chefs, Gen’s MasterChef journey also sharpened her culinary skills while opening the doors to more opportunities. “Being the youngest cook was a little daunting,” Gen recalls. “But everyone was welcoming and we learnt a lot from each other. I’m happy to have emerged as the first runner-up, especially given my relatively limited years in the kitchen.”
#2 Turning Crisis Into Opportunity
Upon ending her MasterChef journey, Gen enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America to deepen her culinary knowledge. In addition to toughing out the long hours and rigorous schedule, the chef managed to secure a highly-sought after internship at Blue Hills at Stone Barns, a Michelin-starred restaurant located in New York. However, Gen’s plans were derailed by the pandemic and had to cancel her trip.
“I was really looking forward to the opportunity,” Gen smiles ruefully. “But I’m thankful to have secured an internship at Plentyfull Bakery, especially during these challenging times.”
Shortly after, the Circuit Breaker was introduced and Gen found herself spending more time in the kitchen. In putting together care packages for her friends, Gen decided to include doughnuts – despite not being a fan of them herself. “I’ve never really liked them but everyone seems to,” she laughs. “So I decided to make doughnuts that I thought both my friends and I would like.” Little did Gen expect that this would lead to the founding of Sourbombe Bakery.
“I met Chun Rong (CR) when I was pursuing my interest in food photography. We became friends and have collaborated a couple of times. After eating the doughnuts, he asked if I was interested in selling them. And after receiving more positive feedback from friends, I thought, why not?”
A professional photographer and food stylist, CR then worked with Gen where the duo established Sourbombe Bakery. “He takes care of marketing and aesthetics, while I focus on the culinary aspects – so we make the perfect team.”
#3 Just Keep Moving Forward
Having to juggle between work and the business, Gen recalls, “My days were packed – it was to the extent where I was working 12 hours back-to-back. I’d finish my shift at Plentyfull Bakery before rushing down to CR’s studio to prepare for Sourbombe’s launch. Once, I didn’t even have time to change and CR was surprised to see me turn up in my uniform that probably had food stains all over.”
“We did everything on our own – this includes putting together the packaging, developing the website, refining the recipes. There were definitely days when I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to compromise on either work or the business so I kept going.”
#4 Be Proud Of Your Product
In addition to having grit, Gen also has high expectations of her sourbombes and never wants to compromise on quality for her customers. For instance, she has once reworked on an entire day’s worth of doughnuts as she felt that the dough was off.
“It’s important to believe in what you’re selling. I want the best for my customers – basically, I only make what I will eat. Doing so also protects your brand, so it’s a win-win situation.”
#5 Every Step (Good Or Bad) Is A Learning Experience
When Sourbombe Bakery first launched, one of the main challenges Gen had to grapple with was the delivery system.
“We wanted our customers to receive the sourbombes in the shortest amount of time and in prime condition – after all, we put a lot of love and effort into baking them. Sorting out the delivery slots was challenging at first, especially given the (unpredictability of) locations. We eventually worked out a system with our delivery team such that our customers can receive the sourbombes by teatime,” smiles Gen.
Despite raving reviews of the sourbombes, Gen is actively on the lookout for feedback on the desserts. The chef adopts an open approach and changes up the menu to accommodate more popular flavours. “Taste is subjective – what I think works may not for others. So we welcome all feedback and are always open to suggestions!”
And what would be some advice Gen would dish out to aspiring entrepreneurs? “Start small and avoid jumping the gun. But more importantly, believe in yourself and your products.”
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