Behind The Apron: Sam & Forest Leong (Forest & Tangerine)

It has been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But what happens when he is a chef?

In this interview, celebrity chef Sam Leong and his culinary instructor wife, Forest share the secrets of balancing a successful marriage and business partnership. With over twenty years of marriage under their belts, it is not surprising that leading chefs in the industry have also approached Sam and Forest for relationship advice.

A word of advice from Chef Sam: “We don’t cook at home so don’t marry a chef!”

We catch a glimpse of the chemistry shared between the husband-wife team who founded Sam.Leong@Forest Cooking School and runs spa-cafe Tangerine located at ESPA of Resorts World Sentosa.

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 Why did you decide to enter the culinary world?

Forest: It was by circumstances. My father was also a chef. He did not encourage me to enter into the culinary world as he knew it was very tough – long hours, low pay, dirty job. But I really loved to cook since I was young so I wanted to give it a try although I saw that it was really tiring for my father.

Sam: She told me her father said don’t be a chef and don’t marry a Chinese chef!

Forest: In that sense, when you are young and someone tells you not to do something, you would still want to do it.

Sam: For me, I was born in Malaysia. My dad was also a chef and my entire family was working in Chinese restaurants. At the beginning, I didn’t like to be a cook. I didn’t like to study as well. I watched a lot of Hong Kong drama so I wanted to be a policeman. My parents were rather traditional so they didn’t approve. That dream was gone so my father asked me to join him in the kitchen. At that time I was 16 and I wasted almost two years in the kitchen. My dad owned the restaurant so I was pampered and didn’t do much work. When I was 18, my dad sat me down for a talk and advised me to be a proper chef. I took his advice and now I’ve been in the kitchen for almost 30 years. It has been my first and last job!

Why did both of you decide to start a cooking school together?

Sam: In the past, we decided that Forest should stay at home to look after the children while I went out to work. I am very traditional. It was difficult for Forest. She was only 20 when we had two children. I was 23 when I became a father. We started early and it was difficult. When I got a job at the Four Seasons, the whole family moved from Bangkok to Singapore. It was a total change for her because of the food, language and culture. She also left her family and friends behind.

Both of us had a role to play and we have made it after 23 years of marriage.

Four years ago, I gave up my career with Tung Luk after working there for ten years. I was at the peak of my career but I wanted to spend more time with my family. I didn’t have the chance to watch my sons grow up due to the long hours at work.

So we were planning what to do next. Forest loves to teach so I encouraged her to start her own cooking classes. After she gained confidence through conducting cooking classes for our neighbours, she progressed and People’s Association engaged her as a trainer. I also wanted to go back to the basics after I had peaked in my career so we decided to set up a company to conduct cooking classes.

In the past, I had no time for her due to my long working hours. Now we get to spend 24 hours together!

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How is it like being business partners and working together in the kitchen?

Forest: We’re both very professional. Work is about planning and organising. We do our cooking separately so we don’t clash. I enjoy working with Sam because he is very professional. I don’t give any privilege, believe me. Not at all! We are very professional.

Like every couple, we have our ups and downs. The most important thing is to be understanding and patient. Every problem will have a solution. Business is a long term investment so you have to plan for the long haul to make it work. No matter how tough it gets, we have to talk about it and go through it together.

Sam: We do our own dishes so there is not much conflict. For example, for today’s menu, Forest worked on the first three dishes while I did the rest. We respect each other.

What advice would you give to couples who want to go into business together?

Forest: I feel that we can’t really give advice for everyone because different people have different characters. But the best way is to compromise. When your private life works, everything else will fall into place. After compromising, you will complement each other. Be professional. If my position is below him, I have to listen to him at work.

Sam: I’m lucky because she is a fellow cook. We understand each other so we cut off a lot of conflict. We are in the same uniform and have the same working hours.

We also know our roles and respect each other.

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For more on Chefs Sam and Forest Leong’s food, check out our review of Forest and Tangerine.

Interview

3 Responses to Behind The Apron: Sam & Forest Leong (Forest & Tangerine)

  1. […] more on the chemistry and dynamics of this successful chef-couple, do check out our interview with both Chefs Sam and Forest Leong and find out how it is like to have two cooks in a […]

  2. Thank you for this interview. It’s sweet to read about what they went through. It doesn’t sound easy at all, but the chemistry they have will show in their creations.

  3. Nice interview and well written. Looks like the 2 sisters also into the same biz now :P , complement and don’t conflict keke

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