by John Lee

Fiona Lim
Photo: Ed Rek

Fiona Lim is the Executive Sous Chef at George, where she has worked under celebrated Chef Lorenzo Loseto since 2004. A native of Singapore, Lim travelled to Canada to study literature, only to end up in the kitchens of Rain as a saucier for Guy Rubino.

The Interview

GFR: Given the fact you are from one of my favourite parts of the world (Singapore) why on earth would you move to Canada of all places?

Fiona Lim: Believe me, I miss Singapore very much and as you well know, I miss the food the most! (Aside from my family, of course.) I came to Toronto to further my studies, and of course to see and experience more. I’m not sure what I thought more was at the time but I suppose I knew I wanted to see it.

After junior college in Singapore, the aim was to go to university to study literature. I decided on Toronto because my elder brother was already here. Having family already established here, it made the choice easy. It would be so much easier (and much more fun) to adjust to another city or country having that security: knowing someone and just settling in. It was always meant to be a temporary situation; just for university, so the decision did not seem too monumental at the time. At some point, I would return home, or so I thought.

To be honest, I am not sure when it happened, but over the course of time, I really settled in. I never really made a conscious decision to either stay or go home (yes, Singapore is still home), ‘temporary’ just sort of morphed into what we have now. Its a good thing, but then again, so is carrot cake , hor fun and mee siam.

GFR: Tell me your greatest fear as a cook.

FL: Hmmm… good one. I think my greatest fear is the lack of creativity or imagination. It is hard to make yourself think outside the box sometimes. Sometimes, certain things inspire you and ideas and thoughts may come readily. You have a good rhythm going; one thing inspires another which leads to another and its a great chain of events. But sometimes they don’t. And it’s frightening to feel you have no more ideas. It’s something you can’t exactly force; ideally it’s something that should come naturally. So its rather daunting to feel that your mind is confined to its routine and refuses to budge.

GFR: I’ve noticed a lot of younglings on the line with you. How do you deal with their immaturity?

FL: Patience and empathy. They go hand in hand. Its important to remember that people are here to learn. Some will learn quicker than others and some will just never learn! But then again, that’s what its all about, isn’t it? I find I have to remind myself that the mindset that I am in is not the mindset of a 20 year old apprentice. They’re apprenticing; it’s not a career yet. I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was 20, so it would be unreasonable to expect the same. What I do expect is focus. Don’t make me any long-term promises, but while you’re here, be serious about what you do. Its the least you can do for yourself. I find the best way is just to lead by example and hope it means something to anyone who’s watching.

GFR: What phrases do you use the most when at work?

FL: So, I had to take a poll with the staff on this one and they’re pretty accurate: #1 “Hard and fast”, #2 “Mumbo jumbo”, #3 “Big guy”, #4 How long? and #5 Anytime. Make of this what you will; I’m not sure how to explain myself.

GFR: Which American Iron Chef would you challenge and why?

FL: If I said I don’t watch enough TV to give you a solid answer, would that be okay? That’s actually the truth. I don’t really keep up with the Iron Chefs. Sorry…

GFR: Finish this sentece: my mother makes the best…

FL: …shepherd’s pie. When I was a child, she used to make shepherd’s pie in a round, glass baking dish. In order to make sure the pie crust didn’t fall in the centre, she used to put a ceramic (maybe it was clay) egg cup, upside down in the centre of the dish. That way, the crust wouldn’t collapse. More importantly, though, as you dug into the pie, you exposed more and more of the egg cup. Lucky you if you happened to be the one who got the chance to overturn it!! There was a always gush of gravy that had been trapped inside the egg cup as the pie was baking. So this was always the best part; releasing this flood of yummy goodness into the rest of the pie. Simple pleasures.

GFR: What zodiac (Chinese of course) sign are you and how accurate is it in regards to your persona at work?

FL: The tiger. From what I hear, the tigers tend to ‘pounce’ into something wholeheartedly and are then left exhausted for a while before they quickly bounce back. At times they get a little too absorbed which leads to a little imbalance with life. Sounds about right. Yes, I do need to utilise my energy more efficiently to find a better balance. I do definitely have a need to be challenged constantly and I do adapt very quickly.

I don’t think I was a born leader. I think I have learned to lead; certainly not something that I felt came naturally to me. That has been an interesting journey, some might even say, a challenge. I am very protective of what is mine and near and dear to me including the kitchen and staff and all that we work for.

Apparently, tigers always land on their feet so they don’t worry about outcomes. Couldn’t be further from the truth. I worry all the time about whether we’re going to be set, whether we have everything, whether I’ve forgotten anything…the list goes on. And I’m always double triple checking. I worry.

And lastly, I don’t think of myself as brave, competitive or unpredictable. Like I said, I wish I could braver in terms of thinking outside the box when it comes to cooking. I’d say I have a pretty set regimen at work and I think the staff in the kitchen are pretty used to the way I do things. Then again, having said that, who knows?

GFR: If you could work for anyone (besides Lorenzo Loseto) who would it be?

FL: Myself.

GFR: Your last supper will consist of…

FL: Guo tie, (you know, the pork dumplings) complete with Chunkiang black vinegar and finely julienne fresh ginger and a pair of chopsticks.

John Lee is the President of Chippy’s Fish & Chips