How Singapore’s National Culinary Team Is Igniting Talent

This is the third post of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.

Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.

In October this year, Singapore’s National Culinary Team won two gold awards (and were also crowned overall champion) at the Culinary Olympics held in Germany.

 

About a month after the team returned victorious, e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Singapore Chefs Association (SCA), signaling the parties’ commitment to Attract, retain, and develop the workforce for the Retail and Food and Beverages industry so as to build a sustainable pool of qualified and competent local trade professionals; Enhance, broaden and deepen skills for trade professionals to advance their careers and competencies; (and) Equip young culinary talents to hone their skills and be future ready’.

I had the opportunity to witness the MOU signing, which was done very creatively with handprints using food dyes.

MOU signing

The event was graced by Ms. Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Trade and Industry.

If you don’t already know, e2i is an initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to support nation-wide manpower and skills upgrading initiatives.

In the year leading up to the competition, e2i worked closely with the National Culinary Team to support their training efforts.

With the MOU, there will be more collaborations to develop and roll out platforms and master classes such as “Competition Training Masterclass for Young Inspiring Chefs” where renowned chef experts will share their knowledge of what to look out for at culinary competitions and how to prepare for them. 🙂

Cold Display Masterclass

A sample of what a “Cold Display” might look like, with every (little) item on the plate coated with gelatin (3 coats in total) – a most tedious process.

On the day of the MOU signing, there was also a Cold Display Master Class conducted by Chef Anderson Ho and a live Cold Display Cooking Demo by Chef Teo Yeow Siang and Chef Alan Wong.

Some 80 young aspiring Junior Chefs Club members, the strategic sub alliances under SCA, as well as students from Shatec and At-Sunrice attended the class.

Chef Anderson Ho

Chef Anderson Ho explaining how the competitions work, and what to expect.

Culinary Student

A (mature) student trying his hand at coating the food in gelatin for a cold display. Age is no barrier when pursuing your passion!

~ What I Learnt From the Olympic Gold-winning chefs ~

  1. Chefs Work Hard. Chef Anderson Ho shared that chefs can work some 12 to 14 hrs a day. When you’re an apprentice, you might even have to brew coffee for the head chef every morning – prepare to be met with a ‘black face’ if you unfortunately forget to brew the coffee one day. During the competition, to prepare the cold display, the chefs worked throughout the night!
  2. Do What Nobody Likes To Do. Volunteer to do things like debone a lamb shoulder or fillet a fish. Chef Ho says he is thankful to colleagues who don’t do these tasks so he got the opportunity to learn how to do them. He also asked us in the audience whether we can catch, kill and debone a chicken or whether we expect it to be packaged nicely (like in supermarkets). *ahem* I’m not so sure about the catching and killing bit but I have experience cutting up a chicken into its various parts: drumstick, breast meat, etc. 😛
  3. Lack ‘Basic’ Skills? Get competition points deducted. If you are supposed to fillet a fish, make sure you don’t end up butchering it!
  4. Do Your Research Constantly. Yes, you can search the Internet for ‘modernist cuisine’. You may not try to recreate anything right now but it gets imprinted in your memory bank. And in future you may just create something based on all the knowledge you have gathered. Remember though that reading without any actual practice in the kitchen is not ‘real’. Get your hands dirty in the kitchen and keep honing your skills.
  5. Always put the team above your own personal interest.
  6. Know the ingredients you work with. For instance, in Europe where the climate is dry, the gelatin you use for your cold display may curl up. If the food stinks, the judge deducts points even though there is no tasting for cold display.
  7. Your food descriptions must always match the display. If the description reads that something is “roasted”, it must not look ‘steamed’ on your display, for instance.
  8. When your Sifu (read: teacher) wants to teach you something, just say “Yes, Chef” to what he tells you. Don’t argue. If he walks away, you end up learning nothing.
  9. Your idea must be refreshing and new. Judges don’t taste the food so it must look good!

What struck me most was how animated Chef Teo Yeow Siang was when he was talking about the competitions and about being a chef:

Chef Teo Yeow Siang

The animated Chef Teo – he REALLY loves culinary competitions!

~ What A Student Had To Say About the Masterclass & His Culinary Passions ~

Shatec student

Jayme Ooi, 23, a Shatec student

When I was in Secondary School, there was an Open House event and I was tasked to cook fried rice. When I saw people of different cultures and races interested in my food and culture, I realized the joy of interacting with people who enjoy the food I cook. Once they tried my fried rice, they became interested in knowing how I cooked it, and the history behind the dish.

After I graduated with a diploma, I realized that what I want to do is to pursue this culinary journey. After I joined Shatec, I found out there’s a lot I don’t know about food. This piqued my interest in pursuing this journey further.

Yes, it was quite tedious to pursue a diploma but I did it on the advice of my parents. But it allowed me to realize this is not what I want. What I really want to do is to prepare delicious meals for other people. At first, my parents rejected this notion, and thought I was wasting my diploma. But I don’t want to live my life doing things I don’t want to do. I want to pursue my goals. I strongly believe that I will make my parents proud eventually.

To my peers, I’d tell them to follow their dreams and passion. Go ahead, don’t be scared. I’m 23, don’t have to take care of a family, wife or child. So this is the best time to pursue what I want to do and I can dedicate all my energy and attention to it.

It’ll help if you take up internships before deciding (or finding out) what you want to study. Get to know the whole economy and how things work. I had short stints at Gong Cha and Ritz Carlton. I never once felt it was a job. I felt each was a place for me to learn a lot of things.

I want to be like these (award-winning) chefs, reach a certain level and inspire the next generation. Now, I’m trying to gain as much experience as possible, absorb as much as I can, like a sponge.

A lot of people think a chef’s pay is low and it is just about working in a hotel every day. If you go in every day to do a job, then you are in a job the rest of your life. If I interact with others, e.g. those in the pastry, butchery sections, I can slowly learn through the years, expand my horizons, and then I can truly take off.

[When asked what he’ll say to folks who are older than he is, but feel they aren’t pursuing their true passions] Age shouldn’t determine what you want to do. If you still have the courage and drive, go for it. If you love cooking, take up a class. Cook for your family. Make your life more meaningful and fulfilling.

In Singapore, everyone wants to be successful. If you are successful in what you are doing, people will take notice. Make some achievements for yourself, get recognized. I think this is the best way to spread the culture.

People are taking more notice of Shatec, At-Sunrice, etc. They take pride in their students and curriculum. It is up to us, the younger generation, to change the stereotypes people have that students here are those who ‘can’t study’. Poly grads also come here because of the energy and the atmosphere.

Now, with this MOU signing and collaborations, we get to meet chefs and witness what’s going on in this industry. 🙂

~

What I took away from this session was the hard work, endurance and continuous ‘skills upgrading’ required for one to be a great chef. As we were told during the masterclass, “Before you slam a chef’s food, recognize the effort that went into it”.

I believe that the students who go for the masterclasses and get infected by the contagious enthusiasm of the chefs in the national team will certainly produce culinary works of art that few would be able to ‘slam’. I certainly look forward to more champion chefs emerging, and for Singapore to retain its World Champion title on the international culinary stage.

~

Read Part 1 of this Series here, and you’ll never look at sashimi the same way again. Then read Part 2 to find out which are the 12 things no one will (ever) tell you about Japanese Green Tea. 😀

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