Baking zero to pastry hero: how Louisa Lim became Asia’s queen of desserts

Ingrid Paredes - 22/05/2023


From a standing start less than a decade ago, Louisa Lim’s culinary ascent has been meteoric. The pastry chef of Odette in Singapore and newly crowned winner of the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef Award 2023, sponsored by Valrhona, looks back on her journey and charts her creative process

Barely seven years ago, Louisa Lim set off for France from her home city of Singapore with no idea how to bake a simple cake, let alone create award-winning desserts. Fast forward to 2023 and not only is she a senior member of the culinary team at globally acclaimed restaurant Odette, but she also revels in the title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2023, sponsored by Valrhona. Her rapid ascent is a lesson in trusting your instincts, as she now sees the pastry kitchen as her natural home.

Lim was studying social sciences at university in Singapore when she found herself attracted to the world of pastry for the first time. She was intrigued by the idea of decorating fondant cakes for weddings, despite not knowing how to make them in the first place. So, in the midst of her academic studies, she began searching for opportunities to learn more about baking, and immediately after graduation signed up for a diploma at the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris. It was a decision met with surprise and sometimes derision by her classmates, but one which opened up a new universe to the bright young Singaporean.
Initially, Lim only planned to learn cake baking and fondant decoration

Despite starting from a low base, Lim’s aptitude was evident early on and she graduated with aplomb. But it wasn’t until she had experienced the buzz of the professional kitchen that she became focused on pastry as a profession.

“I had the opportunity to do internships in restaurants and hotels, and back then I really didn't know what I wanted to do because it was initially just for me, it was about cake decorating!” she says. But she decided to go with her gut and immerse herself further into the specialist art. "I just dove in, headfirst. And I never looked back after that,” she adds.

If the ever-modest Lim landed in the pastry world largely by chance, the reason she stayed in the industry was more substantial: she fell in love with curating every detail of a dish, from presentation to flavours.
Floating Island is a typically fruity dessert and features mango, passionfruit, banana, pineapple and guava

She also believes that determination and perseverance are key ingredients behind her current success – though an innate talent also comes into it – and those qualities were nurtured during her first roles. She began as a stagiaire under well-known French chef Mathieu Pacaud, working at his two-Michelin-starred Histoires restaurant as well as its more casual sibling, Hexagone, both in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. She was rewarded with a permanent position in the pastry section and later worked on creating a new dessert menu when Pacaud took over the city’s historic Apicius restaurant, working under the direction of chef consultant Jerôme Chaucesse and executive pastry chef Marc Lecomte.

The chefs and colleagues she met during her time in Paris remain an inspiration to Lim, and she also felt inspired by the city and the gastronomy that surrounded her.

Homecoming queen

In 2019, she moved back to her home city of Singapore and jumped at the opportunity to join Julien Royer’s team at Odette, which was ranked No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019 and 2020. Her experience in France combined with her heritage to prepare her for a restaurant with a fundamentally French DNA, but which seeks to utilise plenty of Asian produce.

At Odette, Lim’s mission is to live up to the philosophy of serving “light, refreshing and delicate desserts. I think of dessert as a crucial part of the menu because it's what you remember at the end,” she says. Chef Royer encourages her to think outside the mainstream and explore new ideas and techniques, but it’s a team-wide collaborative process.
Odette's desserts are light, refreshing, and delicate – elements reflected in the restaurant’s decor

“We really pay attention to the quality of the products and where they come from – the artisans, the people who grew them, the produce," she adds. "For me, it is extremely fulfilling to create something that leaves a long-lasting impression on the diner.”

Lim begins her creative process by thinking of all the courses on the menu as a symphony, then considers how a new dish will add to the music, and how all the elements must be harmonised. From a start point of seasonality – what fruit or other key element is in peak season – she likes to end with the addition of an unexpected element. The young chef also aims for her desserts to satisfy guests without making them feel heavy: she mentally puts herself in diners’ shoes and imagines how they will feel after a seven-course meal.
A50BR23-Asias-best-pastry-chef-Louisa-Lim-la Peche
La Pêche, made primarily with peaches and raspberry, is Lim’s personal favourite

Similarly, Lim is constantly challenging herself and her team to bring 'hot kitchen' techniques to patisserie, combining contrasting flavours and creating desserts that bring the Odette experience to a delicious and delicate close. This is exemplified by her signature Ardèche Chestnut dessert, created for Odette’s fifth anniversary, comprising hazelnut brown sugar meringue, Corsican clementines, chestnut chantilly, chestnut rum ice cream and a spiced clementine reduction.

Her Shizuoka Strawberry Pavlova, made with Iranian pistachio Pavlova, pistachio chantilly, ginger confit and Iranian pistachio ice cream, is rich in colour and texture, served with a strawberry nage and a drop or two of arbequina olive oil. “My desserts have to look good, for sure, but most important is the taste. Taste is everything! And if it doesn't look good and taste good, we don't serve it."
Shizuoka Strawberry Pavlova with pistachio chantilly and Iranian pistachio ice cream, served with a strawberry nage and arbequina olive oil

Perhaps surprisingly, this pastry chef does not have a sweet tooth, but she loves fruits, which helps explain why La Pêche (The Peach) is her favourite among all the desserts that have graced the Odette menu. It combines poached peaches with lemon verbena and is accompanied by two different sorbets – peach and fromage blanc – with a raspberry sugar tuile and raspberry sauce.

The most challenging dish she has made is called SMARX, a dessert created from (and named after) elements of Royer’s three favourite chocolate bars: Snickers, Mars and Twix. It plays on textures and contrasting temperatures, with a lid of salted caramel ice cream that, when cracked open, reveals a warm chocolate mousse inside.
Smarx was inspired by Chef Royer’s favourite chocolate bars: Twix, Snickers and Mars

Support system for women

On winning the award for Asia’s Best Pastry Chef, sponsored by Valrhona, Lim says: "I am super grateful for the recognition. Winning this award is really a motivation for me to push the boundaries of pastry even further. But I still have a long way to go. I have been fortunate to have some great mentors along the way and I would not be who I am today without all of them, and especially without Chef Julien's guidance."
Lim feels grateful towards all her mentors, but especially towards Chef Royer for his guidance

In the long-term, she is focused on using her position to provide opportunities for others. “Above all, I aim to inspire women in this industry in any way possible, and to create a support system for women to feel empowered.”

For Lim, learning is a long road on which she is happy to keep walking with an open mind – wooden spoon in hand and big dreams up her sleeve.

Take a look at Louisa Lim’s work in the video:
The list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was announced on 28th March 2023 at an awards ceremony in Singapore. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow us oInstagramFacebookTwitter and YouTube