It was a truly last-minute decision to attend a culinary Masterclass organized by e2i, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it!
To those who are asking “what’s e2i???”, e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) was set up in 2008 by NTUC to help working people get better skills and better jobs through tie-ups with training providers and employers, plus government funding for grants.
Singaporeans are also facing increasing competition for jobs by foreigners who have international exposure and networks. So to help Singaporeans compete on the international stage, NTUC is planning various ways to future skill workers (as part of their Care Fair Grow plans for the next 4 years). Besides organising a slew of masterclasses, NTUC also creating industry-specific events with professional bodies to catalyse PME career progression.
At this culinary Masterclass, trade professionals and the public could meet the F&B masters and discover how they come up with new ideas and recipes, and how each dish is prepared. We get the opportunity to mingle with the chefs and network with industry partners too.
Chef Heman Tan, the Group Executive Chef from Jack’s Place taught us how to pair beef dishes with coffee. Beef is usually paired with wine, right? But who knew that coffee would be a good complement?! The chef himself is a caffeine addict who drinks up to 8 cups of coffee a day! (@_@)
We also got to find out more about the cooking styles for various cuts of beef:
[ Image Credit: Esquire ]
I’m not the biggest fan of coffee but I do love all the dishes served up at the Masterclass! Chef Heman shared insider secrets with us about why Australian beef tastes different from New Zealand beef, grain-fed versus grass-fed cows and grilled versus sous vide cooking styles. *wink*
In the first picture above, you see the beef ball with mozzarella cheese inside, and a smaller ball of blue cheese beside it.
Then there’s the beef consommé made with ribeye and topside… And oh that’s 24K gold leaf and caviar on top… 😀
We also had the sous vide beef eye fillet, served with vegetables and heart of palm (the white one) which is the Chef’s favorite:
And to end a delicious “lunch”, we had yoghurt curd in a pomelo ‘soup’:
Chef Heman is an inspiration. He’s an artist-turned-chef who had a rather difficult childhood. Overcoming the odds stacked against him, he managed to turn him life around and has even completed multiple Ironman events! Read the Straits Times article about him here: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/moulding-heman-into-ironman
Within the event venue at Suntec Convention Centre were a number of F&B vendors too, and I got to chat with Dana and Yuzhong, the founders of Out Of The Cake Box, a year-old cake shop which sells the most interesting confections I’ve ever seen! 😀 Too bad I was nursing a sore throat or I’d have ordered one of everything!
Dana explained that they work with the flavors they like and incorporate them into their creations. This one, Miang, is actually based on a one-bite Thai snack which includes dried shrimp, peanuts, lime, etc, in a sweet sauce. Here, it is reinvented as an eclair which Dana says “tastes just like what I ate in Thailand”. She also mentioned that it is “for the adventurous palate”. 😀
Their cakes look beautiful, and have the most interesting ingredients:
There’s also the white rabbit lava cake (which Dana says tastes like an atas version of the popular white rabbit candy), among other goodies! Go check them out at outofthecakebox.com! 🙂
Looking back on the past year, Dana calls it “the toughest year of [her] life” as they had to work very long hours and their entrepreneurship journey proved very uncertain. Both of them had quit their jobs – Dana was an English and Physics teacher at a secondary school while Yuzhong was an engineer.
They started off as baking school classmates and now run the business with 2 other full-time pastry chefs. Their decision to quit their jobs and start their business was met with disbelief from their worried family members. Today, Dana still keeps in touch with her ex-students and some of them even work part-time in her shop!
[ Yuzhong and Dana from Out Of The Cake Box ]
I was told that starting a business like theirs would involve two major challenges – money and manpower. It’s capital-intensive, and also hard to find trained workers. The chillers they used at this event were provided free-of-charge, but ordinarily, for pop-up events, they would have to spend at least S$250 just to transport their chiller to the event, and back. And with regard to purchasing a chiller in the first place, even a second-hand chiller can cost around S$1800-S$2000.
Besides providing the opportunity to showcase and sell their cakes, e2i has also given OOTCB a headstart through a grant to acquire 2 combi ovens, 2 chillers and a freezer. OOTCB could bake and chill larger batches of cakes at one go, which increased the productivity of their kitchen staff (who also received higher salaries as a result).
This cake is so PRETTY!!!
[ Image Source: Out Of The Cake Box ]
Through being able to bake more cakes, OOTCB was able to increase their business volume and sales. They tapped on the Inclusive Growth Programme grant a second time to purchase more equipment, bake more cakes and reward their staff with higher salaries (again!).
Dana also shared that the PIC grant and the SME Centre which offers free consultation would be very useful for new startups. Alternatively, you can hire a “Grants Specialist” (who can charge something like S$1000 per grant) but does all the paperwork for the business owner. 🙂
It was a pleasant surprise for me to find that Dana and Yuzhong did not have to pay a cent to be a part of this event, and they even had their pop-up space prepared for them at no cost (with chiller, display case, etc). I definitely support e2i’s efforts in giving small businesses a leg-up and valuable exposure.
It would be really helpful to F&B owners if e2i continues helping them with grants and also by continuing to organize such events. If you get the chance to attend the next event, make sure you grab the opportunity! I had so much yummy beef that day, and the ticket price was just S$30! It doesn’t get more awesome than this for the public (like me), the F&B owners (like Dana), and the trade professionals. 🙂