Nurturing star chefs

SINGAPORE - When celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant walked into her class, food and beverage business student Sow Min Yee was awestruck.

Belgian-born Stroobant, who runs a chain of restaurants here, was part of Nanyang Polytechnic's (NYP) Celebrity Chef series last year.

He showed the students how to prepare a four-course meal at the school's training restaurant, L'Rez.

"I was scared at first and wondered if he was going to be fierce. But he turned out to be so friendly," the 20-year-old recalled.

Other chefs in the series include Violet Oon, Michael di Placido and Eric Teo.

Mr Teo, who was also the first Singaporean to be appointed president of the Singapore Chef's Association, thinks that cooking shows on television and channels like the Asian Food Channel play a part in inspiring young people to take up the career.

NYP, which will introduce a specialisation in culinary arts for new students pursuing the diploma in food and beverage business this year, is not the only school leveraging on big names to draw students into culinary-related courses.

Celebrity chefs aside, they are collaborating with international culinary schools.

The Institute of Technical Education's diploma in culinary arts, in partnership with prestigious French culinary school Institut Paul Bocuse (IPB), issues its students with a certification from the IPB which is similar to the one given out in France.

Students will also go to Lyon, France, for two weeks of classes.

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) collaborates with the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to offer a bachelor of professional studies degree in culinary arts management.

Mr Terence Chuah, 27, who graduated with a diploma in culinary and catering management from Temasek Polytechnic, is now a final-year-student at CIA, Singapore.

He had a strong passion for cooking and was interested in furthering his studies at CIA, but could not afford the fees in the US. The tuition fees at the institute's New York campus are about US$110,000 (S$138,600). At SIT, subsidised tuition fees for Singaporeans would cost about $20,000 for a two-year course.

Mr Chuah said: "I found cooking so fun when I watched TV programmes with chefs like Jamie Oliver. But after pursuing culinary arts, I realised that the process of cooking is a science."

He recently completed a 10-month stint at internationally renowned restaurant Mugaritz in Spain.

Mr Stroobant thinks it is relatively new to see such an interest in culinary arts.

"Someone told me the chef is the new 'rockstar' and this alone could be motivating, but I also see a lot of kids dropping out when they face the hard reality of long hours and low salaries.

"It is still a manual skill and like any skill, it takes time to master. There are no shortcuts. If they have the passion for it, success will come, but it will take time and patience."

Managing director of CIA, Singapore, Ms Eve Felder, hopes her students will be the leaders of change in the culinary industry in Asia.

"In Asia, there is a lot of money to be made... but the industry is not professionalised. We need highly-trained people to take the industry to the next level, and I'm confident our students will make an impact."

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