Violet Oon

by Nureza Ahmad

Violet Oon (b. 1949, Malaysia–) is a food critic, chef-restaurateur, consultant, cookbook writer and expert on Peranakan and Singapore cuisine. Oon is often featured in newspapers such as The Straits Times, and has been referred to as a “cooking doyenne”.1 Oon first made her name as a food columnist in the 1970s and was appointed a food ambassador by the Singapore Tourism Board in the late 1980s.2 She and her children, daughter Su-lyn Tay and son Yiming Tay, in partnership with investor Manoj Murjani, manage the “Violet Oon” chain of restaurants.3

Early life
Oon was born in 1949 to a Peranakan family. She grew up in Malacca, and the family later moved to Singapore, living in Kuo Chuan Avenue in Katong. She remembers living in colonial bungalows during her childhood days and her time in England as a child.4


Oon’s interest in cooking began when she was young. Her mother, who was a liberated woman in Oon’s opinion, never cooked. Oon therefore turned to her aunts for cooking tips.5 Her Peranakan heritage was a great influence on Oon’s cooking style.6

Career
Oon began her career as a features and music journalist for the afternoon paper New Nation in the early 1970s. Her editor then, David Kraal, asked Oon to pen a column on food in 1974. This marked the beginning of her illustrious food career. In a dedication in Oon’s cookbook, A Singapore Family Cookbook (1998), she recognised Kraal’s role in shaping her life.7 She praised her first boss and editor who taught her how to “dream great dreams”.8


Oon went on to become a dominant voice in Singapore’s food scene for many years. She was appointed Singapore’s food ambassador by the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now the Singapore Tourism Board) in the late 1980s. She participated in food events such as the Singapore Food Festival, and led culinary teams to the United States on food tours that showcased Asian and Singapore cooking.9 In addition, she began her own food consultancy service in 1995,10 and created her own brand of products such as nonya kueh, cookies, shepherd’s pies and curry powders.11  She also conducted cooking classes, appeared on radio and television programmes locally and internationally, and ran her own food publication, The Food Paper, from 1987 to 1996.12 

In the mid-1990s, Oon opened a few cafes and a restaurant.13 All eventually closed down due to poor business, rent arrears and staffing issues.14 Subsequently, Oon focused on her food consultancy business.15 Oon found her recipe for long-term restaurateur success when her two children decided to relaunch the brand and start a new business under Violet Oon Inc.16 Together, they opened Violet Oon’s Kitchen at Bukit Timah Road in 2012.17

In 2014, investor Manoj Murjani became a business partner to the restaurant, which was then renovated and renamed Violet Oon Singapore.18 Under his guidance, the Violet Oon brand of restaurants opened at three more locations, including a flagship store comprising retail and restaurant at ION Orchard.19 Oon opened her largest restaurant yet – more than 350 sq m in size – at Jewel Changi Airport in April 2019.20

Timeline

1971:
 Begins journalist career writing music articles for New Nation.21

1974: Starts writing as a food critic for New Nation.
1980s: Food journalist for The Singapore Monitor.22
1987–1996: Runs her own food publication, The Food Paper.23

1988: Is appointed Singapore’s food ambassador by Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.24
6 Aug 1993: Opens her first food outlet, Violet Oon’s Kitchen, at the basement of the Takashimaya department store. 
1995: Violet Oon’s Kitchen at Takashimaya is closed. Violet Oon Consultants, a food consultancy, is established.25
Jun 1995: Opens three theatre cafes – at Victoria Theatre, Drama Centre and Kallang Theatre.26
1996: Cookie business is launched at Violet Oon’s Kitchen.27
Mar 1996: Oon’s theatre cafes are closed due to poor business.28
2001: Begins selling her own range of products such as nonya kueh, cakes, snacks, cookies, jams, sauces, shepherd’s pies and curry powders.29
Nov 2002: Oon receives an invitation to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York, an American gourmet institution. She spends 10 days in New York using her culinary skills to promote Singapore as a tourist attraction.30
Aug 2003: Appears on two American television programmes.31
Oct 2009: Opens Violet Oon’s Kitchen at Toa Payoh North.32
2010: Closes Violet Oon’s Kitchen at Toa Payoh North.
Jul 2012: Opens Violet Oon’s Kitchen at Bukit Timah Road.33
2014: Oon suffers a stroke, but recovers. She focuses on self-care and charitable activities.34
Jul 2015: Violet Oon’s Kitchen is renamed Violet Oon Singapore, and its menu now focuses on Peranakan dishes.35
Dec 2015: Opens National Kitchen at National Gallery Singapore.36
Jun 2016: National Kitchen receives Best New Restaurant award at the G Restaurant Awards.37
Feb 2017: Opens Violet Oon Satay Bar & Grill at Clarke Quay.38
Oct 2018: Oon’s second Violet Oon Singapore restaurant opens at ION Orchard. A gift shop is part of the restaurant.39
Apr 2019: Violet Oon Singapore is opens at Jewel Changi Airport.40

Selected publications
1978: Her World Peranakan cooking41
1992:
Violet Oon cooks: a collection of recipes from the Food paper42; Violet Oon’s recipe collection43

1998: A Singapore family cookbook44
2004:
The Taste of the Far East: an Asian culinary experience45
2007:
Timeless recipes: featuring tasty Singapore food products46; 《永恒食谱: "新加坡美味"食品荟萃》47


Family
Parents: Oon Beng Soon and Nancy Oon.48

Children: Su-Lyn Tay and Yiming Tay, co-owners of the “Violet Oon” restaurants.49



Author
Nureza Ahmad




References
1. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Quek, E. LIFE POWER LIST 2015: National chef. (2015, December 20). The Straits Times; Tan, H.Y. (2018, September 17). Cooking doyenne Violet Oon: Taking on the world, one pineapple tart at a time. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
2. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46; Lee, S. (2003, August 9). Violet cooks on US televisionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Quek, E. LIFE POWER LIST 2015: National chef. (2015, December 20). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Culinary cupids. (1995, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tee, H. C. (2001, November 18). From recipes to kueh and spicesThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Kraal, D. (1999, January 20). One and only Violet OonThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSGOon, V. (1998). A Singapore family cookbookSingapore: Pen International. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 OON) 
8. Kraal, D. (1999, January 20). One and only Violet OonThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

9. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46Lee, S. (2003, August 9). Violet cooks on US televisionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Yong, S. H. (1998, November 18). S’pore burp. The New Paper, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46Tee, H. C. (2001, November 18). From recipes to kueh and spicesThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Kraal, D. (1999, January 20). One and only Violet OonThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Lum, M. (1995, March 26). New food outlet is a dream come trueThe Straits Times, p. 15; Tee, H. C. (2001, November 18). From recipes to kueh and spicesThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Koh, B. P. (1996, March 21). Poor business so Violet Oon closes three theatre cafesThe Straits Times, p. 3; Tan, H.Y. (2012, June 30). Violet’s back in the kitchen. The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
15. Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

16. Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

17. Tan, H.Y. (2012, June 30). Violet’s back in the kitchen. The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

18. Tan, H.Y. (2015, May 15). Violet Oon ties up with new investor. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
19. Wong, A.Y. (2018, December 30). Restaurant Review: Perfect pork chop, not so perfect satay. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

20. Yusof, A. (2019, March 7). Jewel Changi Airport to open on Apr 17; Terminal 2 to be expanded. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2019, April 16 from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
21. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet's spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
23.  Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
24. Lee, S. (2003, August 9). Violet cooks on US televisionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Yong, S. H. (1998, November 18). S’pore burp. The New Paper, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Lum, M. (1995, March 26). New food outlet is a dream come trueThe Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

27. Koh, B. P. (1996, December 29). You can now take your wife to Keong Saik RoadThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
28. Koh, B. P. (1996, March 21). Poor business so Violet Oon closes three theatre cafesThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Tee, H. C. (2001, November 18). From recipes to kueh and spicesThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Teo, P. L. (2002, December 1). Bibik bowls over James BeardThe Straits Times, p. 11; Toh, E. (2003, March 15). Autumn in New YorkThe Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
31. Lee, S. (2003, August 9). Violet cooks on US televisionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Huang, L.J. (2009, September 28). Violet’s food at under $5. The Straits Times, p. 49; Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Tan, H.Y. (2012, June 30). Violet’s back in the kitchen. The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Tan, H.Y. (2014, August 8). Recovering from stroke. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. (2017, July 2). Lunch with Sumiko: Life for cooking doyenne Violet Oon has never been better. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
35. Wong, A.Y. (2015, July 12). RESTAURANT REVIEW: Purely Peranakan. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

36. Wong, A.Y. (2015, December 13). Restaurant Review; Good, old Singapore flavours. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

37. Goh, K. (2016, June 14). National Kitchen and Odette get Best New Restaurant nod. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

38. Wong, A.Y. (2017, February 26). Restaurant Review: Does Violet Oon’s satay restaurant cut it? The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

39. Wong, A.Y. (2018, December 30). Restaurant Review: Perfect pork chop, not so perfect satay. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

40. Yusof, A. (2019, March 7). Jewel Changi Airport to open on Apr 17; Terminal 2 to be expanded. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Jewel Changi Airport. Violet Oon Singapore. Retrieved 2019, April 10 from Jewel Changi Airport website: https://www.jewelchangiairport.com/content/jca/en/dine/violet-oon-singapore.html 
41. Oon, V. (1978). Her World peranakan cooking. Singapore: Times Periodicals. (Call no.: RSING 641.59595 OON)
42. Oon, V. (1992). Violet Oon cooks: a collection of recipes from the Food paper. Singapore: Ultra Violet. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 OON)
43. Oon, V. (1992). Violet Oon’s recipe collection. Singapore: Ultra Violet. (Call no.: RCLOS 641.595957 OON)
44. Oon, V. (1998). A Singapore family cookbook. Singapore: Pen International. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 OON)
45. Oon, V. (2004). The Taste of the Far East: an Asian culinary experience. Singapore: Tiger Export. (Call no.: RSING 641.595 OON)
46. Oon, V. (2007). Timeless recipes: featuring tasty Singapore food products. Singapore: International Enterprise Singapore. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 OON)
47. Oon, V. (2007). 《永恒食谱: "新加坡美味"食品荟萃》 Singapore: International Enterprise Singapore. (Call no.: CHINESE RSING 641.595957 OON)
48. Lui, J. (2009, December 14). Violet’s spice of lifeThe Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Tan, H.Y. (2012, June 30). Violet’s back in the kitchen. The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources

Food: Buy from cheap markets, have reunion dinner at home. (1998, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

I can pluck a vegetable or fruit and cook it right away. (1998, September 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Violet Oon plays chef, too. (1996, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Gwee, E. (1997, September 6). Helicopters, soldiers, tomatoesThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Jagdish, B. (2016, April 16). ‘Mental block’ against Singapore food impossible to overcome: Violet Oon. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

Kwek, D. (2000, November 4). Wanted: Granny’s secret recipesThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Oon, V. (2013, July 30). Keep our passion for food alive. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Wong, A. Y. (2001, September 2). Oon’s Shangri-la Nonya spreadThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at April 2019 and correct as far as we are able to 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. 

 

Subject
Personalities>>Biographies
Personalities
Women cooks--Singapore
Cookery>>Food