XIAO-LY KOH, 28, Pastry Chef
Muscle tank, Levi’s; earrings, H&M; denim jacket, and skirt, Xiao-Ly’s own.
Things just got a little more delicious with pastry chef Xiao-Ly Koh, who founded Xiao by Crustz Patisserie. With her sweet demeanour and light-as-air attitude, Xiao-Ly spoke about valuing quality over quantity — and found that this would still mean people would come from all corners to get a taste. What started out as a hobby (she dreamed to be an architect) has now become a booming business; this chef now sinks her teeth into creative baking and always staying original. And she just loves putting a smile on peoples’ faces with her creations!
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I’m the owner/pastry chef of Xiao by Crustz Patisserie. My team and I create delectable sweet treats for our customer every day! Pastry-making and baking started, like many other people, as a hobby but it grew into my passion and it has become a big part of who I am today. My business started from home (online-based) when I just graduated from my pastry course, doing customised cake and dessert tables and events for various clients but it was never my main interest.
In 2016, I was able to open my first physical store where it reflected my personal style and I was able to showcase my true passion, which was French pastry. I was inspired by many of my pastry idols with their work but I always wanted to create something of my own, with my own style and ideas and to inspire others. I believe it’s easier to create something attractive visually, but it’s the TASTE that will be more memorable and stays with us forever. So together with my team, we strive very hard to create beautiful pastry but not to forget the main focus which is the taste.
Starting your own business must have involved a lot of preparation—What was unexpected in that process?
The most unexpected part of the process was the great response and support that we received when I first opened the store. I was rather overwhelmed, but tried to stay focused to maintain quality of the product. There were some disappointed faces in the beginning when my customers couldn’t purchase the cakes when they were sold out but I strongly believe in maintaining quality rather churning out large quantities. As Malaysians, we will return and travel the distance for great food!
Xiao by Crustz was the first few patisseries in KL/ Malaysia that sold actual French pastry that is different from regular bakeries. Each pastry or dessert we sell is individually-made and decorated. I give a lot of thought to layering textures and taste when it comes to creating a dessert to create a memorable “nom” moment for the customers and brighten their mood. I don’t really have a proudest creation (that’s like picking your favourite child) but I do have a signature creation, which is the La Vie En Rose. Even though the main flavours were not my original idea, it was from my first menu and it visually attracted many people to come try our cakes. It reflects a true French-style pastry where the outlook is elegant and clean.
– Xiao-Ly on what makes her brand so unique.
What does “pushing the envelope” mean to you?
For me, or at least in my industry, it means being original and pushing out of our comfort zone; being creative while open-minded. Many of my pastry peers tend to push their limits by joining various pastry competitions both internationally and locally, and continuously develop new techniques and skill along the way—which also encourages me to do the same.
How can a person in your position, press for progress in an industry like yours?
As my industry is male-dominated, I hope with my small success story I would be able to encourage more female chefs to continue pushing towards their goals; and to prove that female pastry chefs are comparably professional and not only seen as bakers at home. Hopefully my work will be recognised by international pastry chefs and I’m able to continue to be creative with my work.
Where do you get your inspiration from and what fuels you the most?
My inspiration comes from various places, but mostly from my pastry peers and colleagues where we discuss different ideas or techniques and go on pastry hunts locally and even overseas to open our minds. Of course, I get inspiration from social media as well. What fuels me the most are the customers who really appreciate our hard work and thought we put into our cakes.
What was your dream job as a kid? Why?
My dream job was to be an architect or interior designer as I always appreciated beautiful buildings and interiors. I guess now I’m still being creative, just with taste buds… Sort of like a cake architect!
Who, or what, empowers you in life?
My friends and family who are always so supportive with my career. Many have sacrificed their time and efforts to help me build my dream and they are always encouraging me when I face challenges in my work and are always so forgiving when I make mistakes.