Top tips for aspiring chefs from a masterchef
From working in a Japanese restaurant to heading F&B services for a five-star chain of hospitals, and judging culinary championships, Chef Randy Chow has had diverse experiences in the field. Now, heading the faculty team At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, Singapore, Chef Randy shares with Merril Diniz, his recipe for the creation of a top chef.
Being a chef -- why is it exciting?
The kitchen is a big playground! Give me a basket of ingredients and I start creating recipes in my mind.
Jack of all trades or a Master of one -- the route for young chefs?
There are no rights or wrongs. But cuisine is wide and you can't know everything. So, personally I feel you should
have a strength in a certain area -- something you can identify with, call your own -- something you can sell. The school encourages the students to approach employers as a mentor for feedback to help find what you do best, where you can channelise all my energy.
Being creative or building technique -- what needs attention first?
The current hot topic is molecular cuisine, which deconstructs classic menus/recipes to give it a new presentation. The birthplace of this was in Spain by this gentleman called Ferran Adria. At that level, you require a lot of technique, reading up because a lot of science goes into it -- nitrogen, vacuum cooking, injecting air to make food less heavy. But for students, foundation, which links back to classic menus and
recipes, comes first. An old book called The Repertoire with all classical dishes, is used by culinary experts, today.
Can you tell if a student is serious about this profession?
Yes. We tend to identify character traits like willingness to work hard, being helpful, being positive-minded.
And not being afraid of dirty work!
Any other traits, which are the mark of an ace chef?
Discipline is very much called for in the kitchen environment, abiding by rules and regulations, punctuality. If you tell your chef, I will be ready at 2 O' Clock, you better be there by 1.50. Don't stroll in at 2! Also, whether you are a celebrity chef or own your own place, you can't do everything yourself. You still work with people, and need soft skills like team management.
Tell us about your first job...
Upon completion of our apprenticeship, my classmate said, 'now, let's go see the world'! we wrote to a few establishments, one on an island. At the time, we had only heard about the Bermuda Triangle and the mystery surrounding it! But we packed our bags, and left for this resort in Bermuda. Back in the 80s, we only saw such beautiful beach scenes in a calendar, and experiencing conventions of 1000s was an eye opener. They would set up different stalls and kitchens on the beach front. Wow!
How is F&B service in a hospital different from that in a five star hotel?
The five-star component was still there as Parkway is a premium healthcare provider. Located in Orchard Road, in the heart of Singapore, the hospitals have very experienced surgeons, and quality of healthcare is very high. On
stepping into the healthcare industry, first thing I had to undergo was training by the dieticians. I was very fortunate to get that exposure. As an F&B service provider, we tailor menus to the patient's needs, based on the dieticians guidelines.
What are the employment avenues for chefs, today?
In Singapore, a resort chain was to open seven new hotels. They opened just three... there was a shortage of trained chefs! So, commercial industry needs trained chefs. Private chefs are in demand, employed by celebrities,
embassies, businessmen. You could cook on a businessman's private yacht or travel the world, alongside cooking for
meetings and during leisure trips. Also, due to lifestyle changes of the individual, a private chef may work in home kitchens. Some chefs create their own line of quality products like gourmet foods.
As a panelist for chef championships and conferences, do you see Indians participating?
Earlier this particular trade was very western-dominated. But now we see India's and China's presence, Malaysia,
Thailand, even a tiny dot like Singapore, which gives the Asian voice. Your question also links me to my old friend
Chef Manjeet Gill. We met in Dubai for an international chef conference. We exchanged name cards, kept in touch.
When I came to India, we had a good catch-up session!
Besides networking, does participation bring other benefits?
At the academy, we have a different approach; we tell students that competition is not only about winning or
collecting awards. The entire learning journey is going to benefit you, prepare you for the profession. It's about dedication. Having an organised work station, is an area that a judge will look at. But start cultivating good habits in your daily work, not just at competitions!
Give us a taste of At-Sunrice.
We have a strong full-time faculty team of 22, very global, two Indian chefs who teach Indian competencies. We
have a German Masterchef who teaches all European cuisines. I have a lady from China who teaches Chinese desserts,
bread and cuisine, and main courses like Peking Duck. So, both eastern and Western cuisine, even for pastry and
bakery. For soft skills like communication, HR, we have engaged specialists from industry -- qualified people who
have vast experience in those topics -- to teach, as those are not our strength.
If a parent walked up to you and asked if being a chef is a good career, your answer would be...
A student and his parents came two days ago. He had made up his mind that he wants to be a chef, his parents were worried. But he had such clarity!
Imagine a 17-year-old knowing what he wants to do? With training, knowledge and guidance, he will succeed. But it is physically tough and mentally challenging. You really have to want it!
Image: Chef Randy Chow