Road to becoming certified chef laden with blood, sweat and tears: Angela May

Road to becoming certified chef laden with blood, sweat and tears: Angela May
Thai-American culinary TV presenter Angela May enjoying lunch at Bar-Roque Grill at Amara Hotel.

The road to becoming a certified chef is laden with blood, sweat and tears.

Take it from Angela May, who graduated from the internationally-famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy with a diploma in classical French cooking more than a decade ago.

Over lunch with M last Friday at Bar-Roque Grill at Amara Hotel, the 34-year-old American-Thai TV presenter said that her one-year training in Paris was so tough, she cried on several occasions.

"Everything about it was intense. The whole experience was super French and very hands-on. The hours were intense and our teachers were intense," she recalled.

"There were times when I found myself in tears as it was just so difficult.

"I pushed myself hard too; I wanted everything to be perfect."

Injuries in the Le Cordon Bleu kitchen were common.

Till today, May's memory of her worst accident remains vivid in her mind.

"It happened during my early days at the academy. I was working with a partner to do pommes anna (sliced, layered potatoes in melted butter)," said the host of UK-produced travel infotainment programme Planet Food as she tucked into French dishes tarte flambe and sturgeon rillette.


"I noticed a clean pan left on the sideboard. Seeing that there was nothing on top, I went to put it away and stuck my whole hand on it.

"Turns out, the pan had just been taken out of an extremely hot oven! My whole hand instantly felt scorching hot."

With a laugh, May, who remained unscarred, added: "There was even a sizzling noise coming from my hand.

"But because of my stubborn nature, I insisted on getting through the rest of the day.

"I didn't know what degree burn I had suffered. I knew my hand was swollen, that's for sure."

Growing up in a mixed heritage household, was eating always an adventure?

Oh my God, my house was crazy.

When I was a kid, I grew up in the US.

So, of course, we ate American food, but very often, my mum cooked Thai food, too.

We'd eat stuff that other children in the neighbourhood never got to eat. If you open the cupboards in my kitchen, you'd find sour plums, star anise, all kinds of spices.

My mum made a lot of khao kha moo, which tastes like the Teochew dish lor bak (stewed pork knuckle). I love it!

You must have had several memorable food encounters hosting Planet Food around the world. Which was the best?

It'd have to be Crete in Greece. We were filming real-life shepherds and their immense appreciation and care for their sheep was incredible. It made me cry.

At the end of the day, the shepherd cooked a beautiful meal for us. They drank too much red wine and we had a wonderful night singing and chanting.

You were based in Singapore for a number of years before moving to New York three years ago. Any favourite local dishes?

I cannot live without laksa. Especially Katong Laksa. I love the heavy coconut broth and the spiciness.

I adore otah too, so I'd buy extra otah and put it in my bowl to eat with my laksa!

I also love xiao long bao (Chinese pork dumplings). I usually go to Paradise Dynasty, which has the ridiculously-flavoured ones.

Those are great, but their original ones are done even better, with thin fine folds at the top and nice light soup.

Where would you go for a romantic dinner date?

I'd cook at home! I like to add Thai spices into traditional Western dishes.

For example, I love roast chicken, but I do it differently every time, depending on my mood.

On some days, I'll make something that goes well with potatoes. On other days, I'd have the chicken rubbed with Thai spices and ground coriander seeds.

Do you bake?

Yes, I do, because I have a sweet tooth and my all-time favourite comfort food is cookies. I cook better than I bake, though.

This article was first published on December 3, 2014.
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