Kit Chan: I Used To Feel Stupid

The singer-actress on playing a baker on the Toggle series 'Patisserie Fighting', her secret dream job and the life lessons learnt from her brief corporate stint.

Kit Chan is back… in drama-land, that is. Her latest screen outing, Toggle's culinary-themed Patisserie Fighting, is her first drama since 2001's Cash is King. Turns out the 44-year-old singer-actress, like her alter ego on the new show, is an avid baker. She even once dreamed of owning her own pastry shop. But these days, she harbours another culinary-related ambition: To be a food critic.

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8 DAYS: On Toggle’s Patisserie Fighting, you play a biomedical researcher who quits her day-job to be a pastry chef. This is your first TV role in 15 years. What took you so long to do another drama?
That’s because my last drama experience was pretty traumatic (laughs). When I shot Ch U’s Cash is King in 2001, it was meant to be a three-month production, but it dragged on to five months. During which, I was getting by on three to five hours of sleep every day. So that just left me really scared of doing another TV series. But it’s been so long that the pain has subsided. Also, when I heard Patisserie Fighting was a web-series, I was curious about it ’cos people said [streaming] is the future of TV and that sounded exciting. I’m a very curious person and I always like trying new things. Besides, it’s only eight 15-minute episodes, so it’s manageable and I really enjoyed working on it ’cos I wasn’t exhausted every day.

kit chan   chris lee
Purely platonic: On Patisserie Fighting, Kit Chan’s budding baker takes lessons from a master chef played by Taiwanese actor Chris Lee. Chan says she’s glad that their characters didn’t share any love scenes. “Romantic scenes are sooo unromantic,” says Chan. “There are so many people staring at you and the lights are shining in your face. In the past, when I had to do romantic scenes, I either feel awkward or want to laugh.”

You’re an avid baker yourself. What new skills have you learnt from being in this drama?
Actually, even though I like to bake, I’m not very sophisticated in my baking ’cos I always make the same old simple things like cookies and butter cakes. But to prepare for this role, [co-star Taiwanese actor] Chris [Lee] and I attended a baking class. So I learnt to make some fancy stuff like mille-feuilles and lemon tarts.

Have you encountered any culinary disasters?
Yes, of course. I didn’t do Home Economics in school; I just taught myself to bake from recipe books. So I made a lot of bad stuff before. After spending two or three hours in the kitchen, if things don’t taste good, I’d get really angry and destroy the food — I’d squash the cakes (laughs).

Would you go into pastry-making professionally?
I used to have that dream. But these days, not really. I think once something becomes a job, it’s never as nice. I bake to relax. I’m sure it won’t be relaxing if I were to run a bakery. But I have another dream — I’d love to be a food critic (laughs). I think it’s the most amazing job in the world ’cos you get to taste all kinds of food and get paid for it.

Your character likes to do things by the book. Are you anything like her in real life?
I don’t think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have my current life. When I make major life decisions, I don’t really consider how society would react to them. Like when I first wanted to be a singer in 1993, it was a big hoo-ha ’cos being an entertainer was frowned upon in Singapore then. I remember at my very first press con, the media wasn’t asking me questions like, “What kind of music do you do?” They were asking me things like, “Why do you want to be a singer?” or “Do you think you can survive?” So it wasn’t easy. My mother didn’t talk to me for days. And then later on, right in the middle of my career [in 2004], when I suddenly went on a hiatus and did something else [in PR], it was the other way round. All the people in my industry went, “You’re doing so well. Why are you throwing it all away?” So I tend to go against the grain and I always follow my heart.

You worked in public relations for 19 months.
Yeah, that shocked a lot of people. There were people who thought that it wasn’t the right thing to do. But it was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was a turning point and it enabled me to still enjoy my work today. I fought my whole life and finally attained my dream job. But after a while, it didn’t feel so nice anymore. I think that happens to everybody. You’d reach some sort of bottleneck. And when that happens, you should always change directions.

What did your PR stint teach you?
It didn’t really matter what I went into — I could’ve been in F&B or the Civil Service, but it so happened that I went into PR. It was really about stepping out of my comfort zone. Being a successful artiste was a blessing and a curse — a blessing ’cos I was successful; a curse ’cos it limited my growth as a person. I was living in a bubble, so protected by all these things I set up around myself — my management company, my publicist and PA. On my 30th birthday, I realised that when I wasn’t performing on stage, I wasn’t very confident and didn’t know how to do a lot of things. Stepping out of this gilded cage was really difficult and frightening at first. But I learnt all these new skills and suddenly, I felt like a complete person (laughs).

What are those new skills?
In the corporate world, I had to communicate with all sorts of people and I gained confidence and a better understanding of people from that experience. I’m still very close to my school friends who are working in different jobs. There was a time when they would complain to me about their difficulties at work and I’d offer them solutions. But they’d just laugh and say, “Aiyo, Miss Chan, the world doesn’t work like that.” I’d say, “Tell your boss to stop it.” Then they’d be like, “We’re not divas. We can’t tell our bosses that.” (Laughs) I didn’t understand that ’cos my first job was a singer and my boss was my manager. So I can complain to my manager and she’d try to accommodate me. That was why my friends would say that I live in la-la land. At first, it was [amusing], but after a while, it wasn’t so funny anymore ’cos it really made me think, “I’m a pretty smart woman, but why do I appear so stupid in front of my friends?” So after a while, I knew I had to grow as a person. So I did that, and now, I’ve a better understanding of the people that I work with ’cos I know what they’re going through. I think knowing that has made me easier to work with.

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In August, you’ll be in the musical Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress. How are the preparations coming along?
Doing a musical is always a big thing. It requires total commitment time-wise, effort-wise, everything. When you’re doing a long-running musical like this one, you need to be really disciplined. I’ve to change my living habits. I become very careful with what I eat and make sure I’m getting enough sleep. It’s not the same as the schedule of a pop singer, when you only have gigs on certain days. This one is like eight shows a week. I’ve to make sure that I’m in a good condition for that.

Patisserie Fighting streams on Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress runs Aug 8-27 at the Esplanade Theatre; tix from Sistic. 

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