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Violet Oon, (b.1949, Malaysia - ) food critic, consultant, chef, and cookbook writer is said to be one of the most recognisable names in Singapore's food scene. She made her name as a food columnist and later was appointed a food ambassador by the Singapore Tourism Board in the late 1980s. Her work has led to appearances on local and foreign television and radio programmes. An influential figure, her food reviews have determined the success or failure of food outlets.
Violet Oon was born in 1949 to a Peranakan family. She grew up in Malacca where her family owned 1.6 ha of land. Later on, they moved to Kuo Chuan Avenue in Katong, Singapore. She remembers living in colonial bungalows during her childhood days and time spent in England as a child.
Violet's interest in cooking began when she was young. Her mother, who was a very liberated woman in Violet's opinion, never cooked. Thus, Violet turned to her nonya aunts for cooking tips. They taught her to master the art of peeling shallots and to cook using spices. Her Peranakan heritage was a great influence on Violet's cooking style.
Violet began her career as a journalist writing for the afternoon paper New Nation in the early 1970s. Writing mainly articles on music throughout her days in the New Nation, she was asked to pen a column on food by her editor at that time, David Kraal, in 1974. That event began her illustrious food career for the next 25 years. Violet recognised David's role in shaping her life in a dedication in her cookbook, A Singapore Family Cookbook (1998). Here she gave praise to her first boss and editor who taught her how "to dream great dreams".
For the next 25 years, Violet became a dominant voice in Singapore's food scene. She conducted cooking classes, appeared on radio and television programmes locally and internationally, and ran her own food paper from 1987 to 1996. She also started a food business, selling her cookies and spices, and even opened a few theatre cafes in the mid-90s. She was appointed Singapore's food ambassador by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board in the late 1980s, participating in food events such as the Singapore Food Festivals, and leading culinary teams to the United States on food tours that showcased Asian and Singapore cooking. In addition, she began her own food consultancy service in 1999 and most recently a sports consultancy service with her friend, Pat Chan, in 2004.
Still remaining very much a Peranakan, Violet's speech is peppered with Malay colloquialisms and her statements enhanced with dramatic gestures. A consummate hostess, she often throws parties cooking Thai, Indonesian and Indian food. She had moved into a semi-detached house at Seletar Airbase, following her divorce from her architect husband in the mid-90s Here she cultivated a fruit and vegetable garden and continued her cooking career.
1972 : Began journalist career, wrote articles on music for the afternoon paper, New Nation.
1974 : Began writing as a food critic for New Nation.
1987-1996 : Launched and ran her own food paper
1988 : Appointed Singapore's food ambassador by Singapore Tourist Promotion Board
6 Aug 1993 : Set up her first food outlet, Violet Oon's Kitchen, at the basement of Takashimaya
1995 : Closed Violet Oon's Kitchen at Takashimaya
1995 : Established Violet Oon Consultants, a food consultancy
Jun 1995 : Opened three theatre cafes, at Victoria Theatre, Drama Centre and Kallang Theatre
1996 : Launched her cookie business
Mar 1996 : Closed her theatre cafes due to poor business
2000 : Participated in a series of road shows promoting food hygiene for the National Environment Agency
2001 : Started selling her own range of products that included items such as nonya kueh, cakes, cookies, jams, snacks, sauces, spices and curry powders.
Nov 2002 : Invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York, an American gourmet institution. She spent 10 days in New York to promote Singapore with her culinary skills
Aug 2003 : Appeared on USA's The Fox News Channels' morning magazine programme, Fox and Friends. She cooked a three-course Singapore dinner comprising chicken rice, chilli prawns and iced fruits.
May 2004 : Started a sports consultancy firm with good friend, Pat Chan, ex-national medal-winning swimmer
Father: Oon Beng Soon
Children: Su-Lyn, a fashion designer who lives in Los Angeles and Yiming.
Gwee, E. (1997, September 6). Helicopters, soldiers, tomatoes. The Straits Times.
Ho, J. (1998, January 1). Food- buy from cheap markets, have reunion dinner at home. The Straits Times.
Kraal, D. (1999, January 20). One and only Violet Oon. The Straits Times.
Koh, B. P. (1996, December 29). You can now take your wife to Keong Saik Road. The Straits Times.
Oon, C. (1998, September 6). Base in on green fingers, friends and pets. The Straits Times.
Tan, S. Y. (2000, January 14). Bag lady- Tay Su-Lyn. The Business Times.
I can pluck a vegetable or fruit and cook it right away. (1998, September 6). The Straits Times.
WTO - Violet Oon plays chef, too. (1996, December 12). The Straits Times.
Poor business so Violet Oon closes three theatre cafes. (1996, March 21). The Straits Times.
Violet Oons theatre cafes aim to sustain mood. (1995, June 24). The Straits Times
Kwek, D. (2000, November 4). Wanted- granmas secret recipes. The Straits Times.
Lee, S. (2003, August 9). Violet cooks on US television. The Straits Times.
Lum, M. (2004, May 27). Oon + Chan = sports agency. The Straits Times.
Tee, H. C. (2001, November 18). From recipes to kueh and spices. The Straits Times.
Teo, P. L. (2002, December 1). Bibik bowls over James Beard. The Straits Times.
Wong, A. Y. (2001, September 2). Bites - Oons Shangri-La Nonya spread. The Straits Times.
Autumn in New York. (2003, March 15). The Business Times.
National Environment Agency. (2002). Food Hygiene. Retrieved July 1, 2004, from app.nea.gov.sg/cms/htdocs/article.asp?pid=327
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.