When did you get married and at what age did you become parents?
Forest & Sam: We met in 1988 while working in Lok Wah Hin, a Chinese restaurant at the Novotel Bangkok and married in 1990. Sam was 23 and Forest only 20. Sam was a very strict sous chef as he was second in command to his father, Leong Mun Soon, who was the chef of Lok Wah Hin.
We had our elder son, Yew Choong, in the following year in 1991. Our younger son, Yew Jhow, was born two years after his elder brother. They are now 22 and 20.
You started parenting at an early age, how did you manage as a young family?
Forest: We re-located to Singapore from Bangkok in 1993 and lived with Sam’s family in a 3-bedroom rented flat. Initially, I found it hard to adapt and cope with taking care of the children, both below three, all on my own. Things got better as I learnt to converse in Cantonese with my mother-in-law.
We were quite lucky that Sam had a stable job and we did not spend more than what he earned.
Sam: I’m lucky that Forest is a very patient and gentle wife, and got along with my mom as well. A chef’s schedule is really gruelling; I worked long hours back in those days. Her dedication to the family allowed me to build my career as a chef.
What were your difficulties as young parents?
Forest: I feel, regardless of age, parenting remains fundamentally the same – parents need to take care of their children in many similar ways by attending to their everyday needs, instilling values, and so on.
It did get tiring occasionally because of the worries and chores that came along with parenting.
All said, having children at a young age worked relatively well for us.
Sam: We had a very ‘traditional’ arrangement. I worked 14-hour shifts to provide the bread and butter, and spent my available time with the family. Forest, on the other hand, took care of the family and the accounts. She even gave me an allowance every month!
How did you overcome these difficulties?
Forest & Sam: It is important to communicate and share your thoughts and concerns with your spouse, or people you are able to share with, e.g. relatives or friends. Sometimes, even without a solution, just talking to someone eases the stress.
What are the benefits of having children early?
Forest & Sam: At a young age, one has more energy to take care and play with the children. There may be things you can cut down on e.g. private time or luxury items, but the happiness you get from your family and children will never be replaced by any amount of money.
Both of you are successful celebrity chefs, how did you manage to be on the right track for your careers despite having children early?
Sam: Success cannot be built overnight; we have been through a lot of obstacles. While building a career, one should try to continuously fine-tune and find the right balance to suit the family’s lifestyle.
Forest: While Sam focused on building his career when the boys were still young, I complemented the spousal role so he need not worry about household matters.
Now that we’re in our 40s with grown up sons, Sam’s taking a back seat to let me pursue my passion in teaching culinary skills and connecting with the people I meet.
Even though we had to take turns over the years to build our careers so that the children always had a parent watching over them, both of us are now successful at home and at work.
Are you enjoying the fruits of early parenthood now that you’re in your 40s?
Forest & Sam: We’ve enjoyed watching our children grow up, and now that they are older and able to take care of themselves, we are pursuing other aspirations in life.
We hope and look forward to being young grandparents too!
Maybe Baby would like to thank Chefs Forest and Sam Leong, sam.leong@forest Cooking School, and Forest restaurant, for sharing their story.