Entrepreneur

Serene Mok: The Story Of An Ex-Corporate Realising Her Bakery Dream In Her 40s

It’s never too late to pursue your dreams and kickstart a new career. The founder of Flourish Pastries, Serene Mok, would agree.

Step into its cozy shop space on the second floor of Tanjong Pagar Plaza, and you will most likely find Serene and her staff busy baking in the store. It is an uphill battle not to be enticed by the wonderful aromas, or the delicious array of choux puffs, tarts and cakes beautifully displayed.

At 42, Serene left her job as a vice president in a financial institution to travel around the world. Upon her return, she no longer felt inclined to return to the corporate world, choosing instead to fulfill her dream of starting her own bakery business. Her first venture, The Village of Shueu Puffs at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, was well-received before she eventually carved out her own space with Flourish Pastries last year.

The Vulcan Post spoke to the enterprising baker about following her dream.

Image Credit: Flourish Pastries
Image Credit: Flourish Pastries

1) Hello Serene! Tell us about your culinary journey and how it all began. 

I would say the seed was planted very early during my secondary school days where I thoroughly enjoyed Food and Nutrition – a subject I did very well in. However, it did not cross my mind then to pursue anything related to culinary studies as I ended up specializing in Information Technology.

2) Did you receive professional training as a baker?

I began as a self-taught baker as I was constantly baking at home and brought the bakes to share with colleagues. Many of them encouraged me to open my own bakery but I didn’t feel I was ready then because of my lack of professional training.

So, I started attending short professional courses whenever possible in Paris, Japan, Bangkok and the United States. Over a span of 15 years, I gained confidence in my craft through the accumulation of training and home experiments.

3) What was life for you like before you started your culinary journey? Why did you decide to make the switch?

I had a rather interesting and colourful career before I started my culinary pursuits. I dabbled in varying job functions and industries ranging from IT, manufacturing, logistics to banking. In 2012, I left my job as Vice President in the banking industry and spent many months traveling. It felt like a natural progression to not return to the corporate world after that.  It will just be another job.

The bestselling cream puffs. Image Credit: Flourish Pastries
The bestselling cream puffs. Image Credit: Flourish Pastries

4) Tell us about the concept behind Flourish Pastries. Which are the bestsellers in store now?

The most unforgettable piece of pastry I ate in Paris was the choux pastry by a heritage bakery. My mission is to return cream puffs back to its glory days, but with the “real” cream and not just starchy custard powder texture.

My cream puffs really took off at Village of Sheue Puff (my first attempt to setup a pastry stall in the Chinatown market) and they are still the No.1 bestseller at Flourish Pastries. Other well-received pastries include the lemon tart, carrot cake and lemon basil cake.

5) What can foodies expect from Flourish Pastries in the coming months?

I will be expanding the range of Choux pastry, as well as our wholesome and natural cakes which are popular with customers. I am also doing some R&D for new pastry items for corporate and party catering for Q1 this year!

Image Credit: Flourish Pastries
Image Credit: Flourish Pastries

6) Were there any trade-offs you had to make in terms of your lifestyle to pursue your dream?

Time is the biggest trade-off. Setting up and growing the business takes a lot more time as compared to working in the corporate world, but this personal investment is definitely well worth your time. Now, instead of going out with friends, I invite them to visit me and catch up at the shop.

I also learnt that we all have the capability to adjust and adapt. It wasn’t hard to adjust my lifestyle. Most people would be concerned about the financial aspect of things but I find that having a higher disposable income is not necessary a good thing. In fact, not having a regular income flow has lightened my baggage somehow.

7) In your opinion, what makes a good patissier?

Know what you are doing and do it with heart. Feel the need to learn from others, improve upon it and freely share the knowledge.

8) What is the best piece of advice you have been given so far, and by whom?

My host in Japan opened my eyes when I was working with them in their farm-cum-restaurant in Hokkaido. He is a self-taught chef who used to be a film director with NHK and he showed me that if you believe it works, with diligence it will be. His words spurred me to take a bold step towards making my passion in baking a realistic one.

9) What advice do you have for fellow bakers who are looking to set up their own brick-and-mortar store?

While passion is the starter, perseverance is the fuel to keep it burning.

You will require some knowledge in business management skills. I am glad I have gone through most of the aspects during my 20 over years of corporate work, seeing how businesses run from SMEs to MNCs, local and foreign setups on business planning, operations, quality assurance, customer relations, sales & marketing and finance. It will be good to partner someone who will be able to assist you with these aspects of business.

I also learnt from experience that even a brick-and-mortar store cannot be run alone. It is best to start off with people you know you can work your passion with and pursue the dream together. For this, I have my partner Josie who perfectly compliments me. While I run the back-of-house, she takes care of setting up the front-of-house and everything else. We learn so much from our own experiences now but that’s the fun part too – constantly looking for new and better solutions.

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