It’s two days past Valentine’s when we meet Fanty Soenardy but the occasion is still at the top of her mind. She and her husband Douglas Ong spent it at Michelin-starred restaurant Odette. Food — good food — always makes the couple happy.
“There is something about food that brings people together. Many successful business deals have been discussed over food. Families get closer, friendships get tighter. It’s very true, don’t you think?” she says with a smile.
A meal together allows Soenardy and Ong, the founder of property developer Sustained Land, to catch up undisturbed. Such moments are precious to her, with the conversation shifting between their two children and their passions and aspirations, and everything in between.
“It is during meals that we get to talk. I do the same with our children, Louisa, 17, and Dillon, 15. Even if we don’t dine out, I cook a meal for them at home. It keep us close,” the 44-year-old shares.
It may be the world’s oldest trick to establishing positive human relationships, and the Indonesia-born and Singapore-bred Soenardy remains its strongest advocate. As a child, she spent hours in the kitchen helping her own mother cook and bake. Not only did it contribute to the two women’s close relationship, but Soenardy herself is now a proficient cook and baker too.
Not convinced? One bite of her Indonesian kek lapis will turn you around. Moist and flavourful, it is a favourite among family and friends. Only a select circle of 20 (or several more) will receive one, which she makes as a gift for the Lunar New Year.
“It is my grandmother’s recipe. But baking a good lapis requires more than a recipe. Ingredients matter. I use only fresh eggs, Australian butter and Japanese flour. You have to learn to be alert too,” she lets on.
For example, the batter for the lapis must turn a specific shade before it is deemed ready. “We must keep a constant watch”, she says, “and this can only be learnt through experience”. Read on and learn how Soenardy translates lessons like this into life and love.
What’s your mantra in life?
There’s always room to improve. We are only human and we are not perfect. No matter how good we become at something, we can never be 100 percent. If I meet someone who bakes a better cake, I’d be happy to ask for tips. A friend once suggested I used flour from Japan and I tried it despite having used the ones from here for years. As a result, my cake became better. I’m constantly looking to do better.
How do you impress this on your children?
This is a key value I want them to remember and apply to every stage of their lives. My daughter once took part in Odyssey of the Mind, an international programme where participants resolve issues through a learning process that encourages creativity. One lesson required her to do scriptwriting and crafts, which she is good at, and so she became so caught up and didn’t consider suggestions from her team members. Inevitably, a misunderstanding occurred.
When she shared about this incident, I first acknowledged her strength in those activities. Then I asked her: How can her idea become better? Would it have worked to listen to others? Two heads are better than one.
I also remind my children that they must have a clear conscience. Every day, we make decisions, some of which are really tough. But no matter what, we must not put anyone in harm’s way in coming to a decision.
A child’s teen years are supposedly the most tumultuous for the parents. How are you faring?
Teenagers are at a very delicate stage of their lives so top-down authority has to go. When Louisa and Dillon were younger, I could tell them outright if something was right or wrong. Now I have to observe and consider carefully how to approach each situation. Young adults can be hot-headed so I start by steering them towards seeing the circumstances in a positive light. It’s important to get them to cool down.
I am also mindful to not put my children down when they own up to mistakes, although, yes, I’ve often felt like exclaiming, “That’s so silly!” But that only drives them away. Keep an open mind, stay calm and listen to what they have to say. If you hear them out like a friend, they will be willing to share. As a mum, I had to learn to play it right. (laughs)
What other strategies keep them close?
Mother-children trips work well for me. My most memorable was also our first. In 2010, I brought my kids on a 10-day trip to Paris. I wanted it to be like a roving classroom, so I could impart important life lessons to them. For instance, I booked everyone in economy class although I’d usually travel in business. I wanted to make clear that the latter was a luxury. And since I was paying, it was my right to decide. They should not complain. It was a good opportunity to teach them the value of money.
Did they complain?
Not at all! The kids were happy about going on an adventure together. They felt lucky that they got to travel. The lessons didn’t stop there. When we were in Paris, we took only public transport so they could see more of the city and how locals really lived. I did treat them to a meal at a Michelin-star restaurant, because I wanted to drive home the point that if I indulged them, it would be entirely up to me. They have been taught that while my husband and I can afford many things it doesn’t mean that they get everything they ask for.
Your fondest memories from when they were younger?
I chose to become a full-time mother as the kids are little only once. When Louisa was attending preschool at Julia Gabriel Centre, I bought her a puppet set. Her teacher used these puppets to teach phonics and pronunciation. I returned home one day and saw her doing exactly what the teacher had done. It was a pleasant surprise.
With my son, it’s a little more dramatic. When Dillon was three years old, he said to me: “Mum, cut hair, cut hair.” I assumed he wanted a haircut so I said: “Ok.” But I very quickly realised that he had a pair of scissors in his hand and was trying to cut his hair himself! I ended up bringing him to the barber, where he was shaven bald. I teared because I felt I was a lousy mother. But Dillon turned to me and said: “It’s ok Mummy, it’s cooler this way.” I was so surprised but instantly comforted to know that he was already considerate of my feelings at such a young age.
Now that your kids are more independent, how do you spend me-time?
Exercise! I go to the gym; I’ve tried spinning and Zumba classes and body weight training. Late last year I took up muay thai with Louisa. We ache all over after every session but it is a lot of fun and keeps me in good shape. I also go for long walks with my husband. Exercise ensures I don’t get worked up easily. More importantly, it also allows me to eat anything I want! (laughs)
What do you most enjoy about this new-found freedom?
I no longer have to rush through lunches with my girlfriends. I used to have to leave midway to pick up the kids from school or to ferry them to extracurricular activities. It is a luxury to be able to sit down, laugh and catch up with my friends without having to run off somewhere. I also have more time to attend events by fashion brands I love. Lately, I love zipping about town in my Ferrari, a birthday gift from my husband last year.
How was growing up in Singapore like?
I came to Singapore when I was six years old. My parents felt that the quality of education was better here than in Indonesia — Mandarin was not taught in schools there and my mum wanted me to pick up my mother tongue. After graduating with a Diploma in Accountancy from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I worked for my dad’s coal business in Singapore.
I was completely immersed in the Singapore life. I value the sense of security the country offers me so I took up citizenship here in 2002. Furthermore, since my husband and kids are Singaporean, I became tired of being the only one in the family to apply for visas every time we travel, and being the last to clear immigration.
The moment you knew your husband was The One?
We met through a dinner with mutual friends. He wasn’t Prince Charming and it wasn’t love at first sight. After getting to know him better, however, I knew that he was someone who’d take good care of me. When we were dating, we once had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. We were both starving but there was only one portion of fish liver, which we both loved, left. He insisted that I had it: I knew then he would put his family before himself. That is an important trait in a man.
Finally, three words to describe yourself.
Grateful, rational and determined.