Baker Behind The Bakes: From MasterChef Singapore To F&B And Fashion
STORY: Annette Tan
16 August 2022
We may know her as the runner-up of MasterChef Singapore 2018 and the baker behind popular donut store Sourbombe Bakery, but Genevieve Lee prefers not to be pigeonholed as an F&B person.
With myriad interests that run from film to fashion, the self-professed “hustler” says there are many paths that she could take in the future. We talked to her about her here and now.
What was the best thing to come out of MasterChef Singapore for you?
Everything! My whole life has benefited from MasterChef. I have always been a massive MasterChef fangirl. Other people watched Dora the Explorer when they were kids; I watched MasterChef, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay. I’m so for the TV chefs. When MasterChef Asia came out, I was like, “Oh my god, I have to sign up!” But I wasn’t 17 years old yet, so I couldn’t join.
Then MasterChef Singapore started. I was in New Zealand for a family vacation and I said to my dad: “Daddy, they just opened up MasterChef Singapore! I want to sign up!” And he was like, “Go for it.” Even before I even got it, I told everyone that I’d signed up for it as if I’d gotten it. But I like to manifest. When I want something to happen, I will tell everyone about it to make sure it happens. After the show, my life turned 360 degrees.
One thing you should know about me is I’m a hustler. Since I was 16, I would knock on doors and ask cafes, like, “Hey, do you want to stock my cakes?” I would bake a cake, cut it up into portions, give it to cafes and say: “Give it a go. If you like it, you can contact me here. If you don’t like it, throw it away. That’s fine.”
So, it was a stark difference. Before the show, I was hustling, getting people to recognise me. After the show, people came to me and asked me to do collabs, events and hosting. So, it was very different. I’m really happy that I got to do MasterChef and got as far as I did. It got me everything I needed to propel my career forward.
How did you know you wanted to become a baker?
I’d spent some time in the hot kitchen studying in the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Singapore. I always knew that I liked baking, but I treated it as a hobby. I thought I would find my career in the hot kitchen, but I realised that the pressure is really high and it’s really hot. The heat is on physically and mentally. I found myself getting burnt out even though I’d barely started in the industry and I realised that something must be wrong if I’m feeling this way when I haven’t even put myself all in. I found a lot of respite baking at home after work or on my off days. I found it very peaceful.
When did you decide it would become your business?
When Covid happened, the thing it taught me was to be more open-minded about your path and that e-commerce is easier for pastries and bakeries because it’s easier to transport. Those were trying times and you have to make the best of the situation. So, I baked a lot – cakes, breads and donuts – and I sent them to my friends to see what they thought I could sell online.
One of my friends, CR, who is my business partner now, tried it. He is very business-minded. Once he tried my bomboloni, he was like, “Oh my god, do you want to go into business together?” And I thought, you know what? Why not?
Why donuts instead of say, cakes or breads?
The most straightforward answer is that it’s more lucrative. You can sell high quantities. And it’s easily accepted by everyone. Even if someone doesn’t like bread or sourdough, they would still probably like donuts. It’s very mass market.
What’s been the biggest difference moving from a home-based business to a commercial one?
The biggest difference is the overheads. Brick and mortar stores are really not easy. I’ve known that from a young age because my dad owns an F&B business. He’s kept it going for 40 years. I’ve seen all the ups and downs, and I was afraid to jump into it. But I’m glad I took that leap because I’ve learnt a lot. It’s not just about the business, but about personal goals and having difficult conversations. But it makes me push myself and be open to everything. Definitely no regrets.
Your bomboloni come in some really interesting flavours. Where do you get your inspirations from?
I love food. I eat out a lot, I love going to restaurants and I read a lot of food blogs. Sometimes my friends who have wacky taste buds ask, “Do you think this and this would go together?” And I would never say no. I’d be like, let me try and I’ll tell you. My willingness to experiment has opened the doors to many flavours. We make some mistakes, of course. But when they do work, I feel so happy!
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a baker?
I do feel like I'm pigeonholed as an F&B person, because I have other interests too. I think I’m passionate in whatever I do and I’m interested in everything. If I wasn’t in F&B, I think I would be in film. I’m the type of person that would watch a movie and then dissect it and talk about it, and be all crazy about it. I love the art of film-making. And I love fashion. So, maybe I would also be a fashion designer and have my own label. That’s always been my dream.
Do you have plans to start one?
I’m getting a sketch pad and am envisioning what I’d love to have in my own label. My boyfriend said, “Start small, just draw, create an Instagram account. You never know, someone might pick it up.” I’ve always been a big dreamer, so ya, I’ll try it.