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The Singapore Law Gazette

The Italian Experience

Looking back, the turning point in Amanda Chia’s life was in 2018. While she was a law student, she travelled to Rimini, Italy to volunteer in a camp for children during her university vacation. During her weekends there, she attended cooking classes run by the Italian nuns and nonnas (grandmothers)

“Cook with joy and passion”, the nuns urged Amanda. The cooking bug has taken a hold on her since then.

She returned to Singapore and did a month’s internship at Lolla, a semi-Mediterranean restaurant in Singapore. During preparations for her Part B Examinations, she worked at an Italian hawker stall.

In the midst of her training contract in a family law firm, she decided to join MasterChef Season 4. “I wanted to see the ingredients that they have in the MasterChef pantry”, Amanda said with a grin during a Zoom interview that I had with her. She was one of the final 10 contestants before she left the show.

She admits that she felt nervous, anxious and suffered from imposter syndrome amid all the other contestants. She relished the experience of meeting like-minded people though. “I grew tremendously as a cook and person when I was a participant in the show.”

Amanda with other MasterChef contestants

After being called to the Bar, Amanda decided that she had to follow her first love. She liked family law as it gives lawyers a special voice, responsibility and capacity to help people. “However, it was an opportune time to pursue cooking. I felt that I can always return to being a family lawyer one day in the future”.

She and her partner who is a chef decided to bake Italian bread and sell Italian sandwiches out of her parents’ kitchen through online orders and pop-up stores. PÁAN (short for panini bread and containing the first letters of Amanda and her partner, Alex’s names) was born in September 2023.

Alex and Amanda

How did she pick up her cooking skills? “I deep dived into the art of baking bread. It is a science and you need to keep on practising it.” What excites her even today is fresh ingredients – the correct flour and even the type of oil is important to bake good bread.

Being in a relationship and at the same time being partners in a business can be difficult. She acknowledges that she and Alex have different working styles and are learning to adapt.

So, what happens when they face a conflict?

“Communication is important. We listen to each other and we remind ourselves that it is two of us versus a problem. We acknowledge our emotions and one of us has to be the bigger person and make compromises. It is a continuous work-in-progress for us”.

Why the interest in Italian food? She felt that it is such a simple yet flavourful cuisine. She delved into the art of making sandwiches due to her love for bread. “Sandwiches are versatile. You can just grab it and eat it on the go. It is a great afternoon snack as well.” Besides bread and sandwiches, soups and desserts are also on PÁAN’s menu.

One of Amanda’s sandwich creations

I got the opportunity to taste their Smoked Duck and Cherry Onion Jam Sandwich. Although I am not a duck lover, I decided to take a chance. Upon Amanda’s advice, I put the big sandwich in the oven for three minutes. The Schiacciata bread was soft yet crunchy and the ingredients were fresh and I could taste a medley of flavours. The duck breast was juicy and tender. It was a hearty lunch and I did not feel hungry again till dinnertime.

My smoked duck and cherry onion jam sandwich

“There is a lot to do between the two of us. Some days we start at 6am and end at 11pm. On top of the morning service and evening pick-up of our food, we have to liaise with suitable partners to run the pop-up stores.” Their days are filled with the baking of bread, planning the menus, doing research and developing new recipes.

I joked that her baker life is as hard as that of a young associate in a law firm. She acknowledges that as individuals and business owners, they have to keep working hard to hone their craft.

During the interview, Amanda mentioned several times about interacting with customers and building a community. Community is important to her as it creates a safe space for people to gather and create happy memories over food.

Running a food business is very hard work. Her mantra is to have a positive mindset, take things in stride, embrace uncertainty, be comfortable with only knowing what the next step is going to be, and keep pushing herself. “This is what I told myself when I entered the MasterChef and it works for me till this day”.

As a young and new entrepreneur, she found that being curious, trying and exposing herself to new experiences, finding her own tribe and opening herself up was useful. She shares that entrepreneurship is a process of discovery, learning and growth.

No matter what, there must have been moments of self-doubt. Her coping technique was working on her self-awareness and engaging in self-talk to motivate herself.

I ask her what motivates millennials. “We have many different passions and we have to do what makes us happy. We want to do what we love and chase what we love.”

She hopes to be a successful entrepreneur eventually, running a physical store and creating a positive impact in five years’ time.

I remark that her thinking and her maturity belies her young age. She flashes her signature bright smile at me and goes on her way.

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]