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Defying cultural norms: Meet Singapore’s first female chef-owner of a Japanese restaurant

The Asia-Pacific edition of the Porsche Dreamers. On. campaign celebrates individuals like Aeron Choo, who strive and persist in chasing their dreams, even in adversity

There was no challenge too big or too tough for Ms Aeron Choo to overcome in order to realise her dreams of being a Japanese cuisine chef. PHOTO: PORSCHE

Ms Aeron Choo, chef-owner of omakase restaurant Kappou, has the distinct honour of being the first woman in Singapore to own and helm her own Japanese restaurant.

It is a dream that the 28-year-old has harboured since she was a child, and one that she credits her stubborn streak for helping to bring to fruition. But her journey there has been anything but smooth sailing.

After all, the male-dominated Japanese culinary scene has traditionally not been the most welcoming towards female apprentices looking to become sushi chefs – much less one who is neither Japanese nor able to speak the language.

“I was told that women are not suitable to become sushi chefs, but I was stubbornly against taking ‘no’ or ‘it's not possible’ for an answer,” she recalls.

Watch how sushi chef Aeron Choo overcame challenges to realise her dreams.

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Adamant about getting her start in sushi restaurants, she packed her bags for Japan at just 16 years and sought out opportunities in establishments – but was frequently met with rejection. 

Eventually, she found a restaurant that accepted her as a dishwasher, worked her way through the different responsibilities of the kitchen before her perseverance and determination convinced Master Fujisaki Tadaoher mentor from Yacco Sushi, to take her under his wing.

 

Ms Choo’s determination convinced her Japanese mentor Master Fujisaki Tadao to break from tradition to accept her as a “disciple”. PHOTO: PORSCHE

“He said that he could see in my eyes just how much I wanted to learn and how determined I was to pursue Japanese cuisine. That was why he decided to support me on my journey to realising my dream of becoming a Japanese sushi chef,” says Ms Choo.

The rest, as they say, is history. After completing her professional training with her mentor, obtaining a certificate from the Japan Sushi Instructors Association in Tokyo, and also picking up the language, Ms Choo returned to Singapore in 2014, and started her first venture, a donburi stall in a humble coffee shop in Yishun called Ayakichi.

Two years later in 2016, Kappou was set up at its first home at Fortune Centre in the Bugis area.

Today, Kappou – mirroring Ms Choo’s growth as a sushi chef – has evolved into a stylish omakase restaurant at an office building in the heart of the central business district.

Dreamers unite

Ms Choo’s inspiring story of tenacity has not gone unnoticed.

She is one of the profiles featured in the new global Dreamers. On. campaign by luxury car marque Porsche, which aims to spotlight those who have dared to chase their dreams.

At just 28 years, Ms Choo is the chef-owner of her own omakase restaurant, realising her childhood dream. PHOTO: PORSCHE

The campaign is also an homage to the company’s founder Ferry Porsche, who started the company as a way of realising his own dream of creating the ideal sports car. “In the beginning, I looked around and could not find the car I dreamed of. So I decided to build it myself,” he once famously said.

On the Dreamers. On. campaign, Mr Hannes Ruoff, chief executive officer of Porsche Asia Pacific, explains: “With this pioneering spirit, the possibilities for innovation and progress in a craft or passion are endless. That’s why we want to encourage the next generation of dreamers to do the same.”

Porsche founder Ferry Porsche epitomised the meaning behind the Dreamers. On. campaign by chasing his dream of creating his ideal sports car. PHOTO: PORSCHE

Like Ms Choo, Mr Morgan Yeo, of bespoke furniture company Roger&Sons, is also recognised by Porsche for his grit in pursuing his dreams.

Despite not having experience in the industry, Mr Yeo and his brothers had to take over the family’s system furniture fabrication business when their father passed away from cancer in 2014.

Find out how Mr Morgan Yeo and his two brothers have carried on their father’s legacy and transformed the family business.

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Nevertheless, they believed it was their duty to uphold their father’s legacy and passion for the craft of carpentry.

Explains the 34-year-old: “As kids, we were constantly exposed to our father’s work and saw first-hand how much the business meant to him. There was no question that we would take over the company.”

The odds were stacked against Mr Morgan Yeo and his brothers with none of them having experience in carpentry or the woodworking industry. PHOTO: PORSCHE

After three years of research and business development, Roger&Sons saw traction in the business, and was brought on projects for clients like Google, Mandai Wildlife Group and W Hotels. Today, their extensive portfolio includes furniture for private, corporate and government clients.

Enduring passion

A common trait shared by Ms Choo and Mr Yeo and his brothers is their can-do spirit – something many Singaporeans can relate to – and their ability to stay focused on achieving their dreams despite curveballs along the way.

In 2017, a year into running Kappou on her own, Ms Choo was diagnosed with a steroid cell tumour, and was forced to reassess her priorities. After her recovery, she decided to reduce the restaurant’s operating hours and set aside time for her to travel and take care of her health.

Even a health scare did not cause Ms Choo to lose sight of her goals as she continues to pursue her passion. PHOTO: PORSCHE

Nevertheless, Ms Choo says her passion for the job has not wavered in the slightest.

“I have just learned to do it in a way that is more sustainable, so that I can continue doing what I love in the long run,” she says. 

For Roger&Sons, Mr Yeo says despite facing initial scepticism about their business model, the brothers remained undeterred.

He explains: “Like every family, we don’t always see eye to eye, but we trust one another deeply. At the end of the day, we are united by the desire to make our late father proud, and to continue raising the profile of carpentry as a craft.”

They hope to encourage fellow dreamers to persevere and apply the same laser-sharp focus when pursuing their dreams.

Chasing dreams fuelled by your passion is what powers the Yeo brothers to continue doing what they are doing at Roger&Sons. PHOTO: PORSCHE

“Remember your passion, grit, mental strength and stamina,” says Ms Choo. “Never give up and be prepared to work hard for your goals.”

Mr Yeo echoes the sentiment, saying: “Ask yourself: If you do not love what you do, then why are you doing it? Just keep trying and never stop dreaming.”

Visit the Porsche Dreamers Stories website for more inspiring stories and to further find out about the Dreamers. On. campaign. Also, follow Porsche’s digital and social media channels – Instagram, Facebook and YouTube – for more updates on the Dreamer Stories.

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