Singapore’s food ambassador
Violet Oon has been just about everything there is to be in the food business – critic, author, publisher, speaker, teacher, television presenter, restaurateur, consultant, and, of course, chef. One of Singapore’s best known food personalities, she has met and shared Asian recipes and food tips with some of the top chefs in the world.
Born to a Peranakan family, Violet’s love affair with the kitchen began when she was sixteen. It dawned on her then that if she did not make the effort to document her family’s recipes and learn to cook them, “there would come a time when I would no longer be able to savour my favourite foods”, she wrote in the foreword to her book Peranakan Cooking. Her mother did not cook so Violet set out to learn the art of Peranakan cooking from her older relatives.
On graduating from the University of Singapore in 1971, Violet joined the New Nation where she wrote about music and the arts. In 1974 she was asked by the paper’s editor to start a food column – and so began her career in food. In 1987, after more than a decade as a food columnist in newspapers and magazines, she started her own publication, a monthly magazine called The Food Paper that she produced for several years.
Violet has written three books - Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks, and A Singapore Family Cookbook. Other books include the Curry Cookbook, which she co-authored for a German publisher; Naturally Peninsula, commissioned by the Peninsula Hotel group of Hong Kong; and cookbooks for Tiger Beer and for International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore). Over the years she has appeared frequently on local and international radio and television shows.
Violet’s role as Singapore’s food ambassador began in 1988 when the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board sent her to the United States to promote Singapore as a food haven. Her three-week, eight-city mission saw her giving food demonstrations and meeting the media to talk about Singapore’s rich and diverse food heritage. It was the first of many such trips abroad. She has since then spoken or presented at numerous food events internationally. In 2004, 2007 and 2009 she led teams of Singapore chefs at the World of Flavors Conference and Festival organised by the Culinary Institute of America.
In 1993 Violet took her first steps as a restaurateur with a Peranakan restaurant in Bukit Pasoh, after which she ran several cafes and a popular take-out at Takashimaya department store. After six years in the restaurant business, she set up a food consultancy service. She served as food and beverage consultant at major events in Singapore, such as the International Monetary Fund-World Bank conference in 2006 that was attended by some 16,000 delegates from 184 countries, and the 2009 APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Meeting.
In 2012 Violet returned to the restaurant business, this time together with her children, daughter Tay Su-lyn and son Tay Yiming. They opened Violet Oon’s Kitchen in Bukit Timah, with a menu that was Peranakan-based but with some Western touches. Three years later, with a new partner on board, the restaurant was renovated and relaunched as Violet Oon Singapore with a wholly Peranakan menu.
In late 2015, they opened a second restaurant, National Kitchen by Violet Oon Singapore, at the National Gallery, with plans to eventually open outlets in key cities abroad. When that happens, it would add a new dimension to what Violet has already achieved as Singapore’s food ambassador.