A Culinary Education with a World View
A common passion for food brought 40 individuals from different educational backgrounds on a journey together. On 13 September, this group of budding chefs graduated from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Food Business Management, wearing their chef whites and a proud smile on their faces.
Two years of intensive education at CIA have not just changed the way they think about food; it has changed the way they look at the world. We speak to four recent graduates to find out more on their world views from their personal journeys and externship experiences.
Positive Mindset A Key to Success
Guah Lih, 25, recipient of the CIA Culinary Award at the CIA Graduation 2017, has had a passion for food since young but went on to do a diploma in Facilities Management. However, a visit to the SIT Open House in 2014 and a chat with Chef Eve Felder, Managing Director, CIA Singapore reconnected him with his passion. That conversation fuelled his determination to enter the CIA Food Business Management degree programme.
To meet the six-month work experience prerequisite for the programme, Guah Lih went all out to get a job as a line cook in Jamie’s Italian restaurant. “It was a tough one-year stint there, including being yelled at by Jamie Oliver, but I really learned a lot as he was very keen to teach newbies like me. I was surprised to receive the ‘Employee of the Year’ award at the restaurant,” recalled Guah Lih.
Subsequently, Guah Lih joined CIA in 2015 and did his four-month externship in Alexander’s Steakhouse San Francisco a year later. “My externship experience in USA has been amazing. The chefs there did not treat me like an intern but a real line cook, and we had to do presentations regularly to share ideas. The overseas experience also deepened my understanding of ingredients as I had to shop for fresh produce at the farmers’ market every weekend.”
He attributed the CIA Culinary Award to a positive mindset and willingness to learn. “My two years at CIA had given me the opportunity to grow and be pushed to the limit. The journey has made me discover more about myself, and to question why chefs do things in certain ways. I appreciate the mentorship and support of my instructors and lecturers, as well as my fellow classmates. It was a-hell-of-a-journey but I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
Photo caption: Guah Lih grew his own vegetables at a plot owned by Alexander’s Steakhouse San Francisco.
Passion and Desire to Serve
One and a half months in junior college was enough to make Lisa Tang, 22, give up her A-level route. She switched to Temasek Polytechnic to pursue a diploma in Culinary & Catering Management, before reading her degree in CIA. Her perseverance paid off as she received the Leadership Award and Highest Grade Point Average among her batch at the CIA Graduation 2017.
“CIA is not just a culinary school. It covers multiple tracks, including chef, hospitality management, restaurant owner, and food critic. Kitchen work constitutes 70% of the curriculum, with the remaining covering literature, history, economics and French. Having 12-hour lessons almost every day really stretched me to my fullest,” said Lisa.
Lisa did her externship at Primo Restaurant in USA and it was an unforgettable journey for her. “My advice to my peers and juniors is to continue to have passion and the desire to serve. The root and fundamental of the industry is to bring joy to people. There is no harm trying and stepping out of the ordinary to push ourselves to our limit.”
Photo caption: Lisa sharing her joy with her parents and brother at the CIA Graduation 2017.
Be Inquisitive and Open to Criticism
Himmat Shergill’s first job at Les Amis, a fine dining restaurant when he was 18, made him a lot more certain about his career path. He enrolled at Temasek Polytechnic’s Culinary & Catering Management, and the progression to CIA was a natural option for him after his diploma studies.
Himmat, 25, has indeed found his niche. He was the first student from CIA to land an externship at the French Laundry, a fine dining restaurant in Yountville, CA., which uses French techniques to cook Californian produce. After his four-month externship in 2016, he was offered a job to work full-time at the French Laundry for a year from May 2017.
“I am very happy to work in the US and learn more about its culture. With the kitchen environment being so intense, the most important quality of a chef is to be positive, and to be calm under all circumstances,” said Himmat, who made a trip back to Singapore for his graduation. He was put in charge of the CIA Pre-Graduation Dinner, where the brigade prepared the meal for senior management from SIT, CIA, TP as well as special guests Chef Jean-George Vongerichten and Mrs Christina Ong.
“I have gained so much from my two years in CIA. I have become more inquisitive and open to criticism. I hope to develop more vegetable-based food, and to use vegetables to create food items that taste like meat.”
Photo caption: Himmat (last row, centre, in white) with his classmates and guests at the CIA Pre-Graduation Dinner, where he prepared the meal.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Born and raised in Brunei, Lim Wei Ling, 24, moved to Singapore when she was 12. With her mother being an avid baker and her father running a food stall selling popiah and nasi lemak, it was natural that she inherited their culinary talent. She went on to do the Culinary & Catering Management diploma at Temasek Polytechnic, before joining CIA.
“I wanted to learn more and I felt that CIA could provide that opportunity for me. It was not an easy two years but it was definitely a memorable journey. We would learn new kitchen modules every three weeks which meant daily quizzes, projects and kitchen classes starting at 7 a.m.,” said Wei Ling. “Here in CIA, we learn what it takes to become a leader, by taking ownership of what we do and being pushed to our limits.”
On top of her busy studies, Wei Ling took on the role as President of the Student Management Committee and participated in various activities including the ‘Singapore Top Young Chef’ competition in early 2017. She did her externship at Gramercy Tavern in New York, a restaurant which serves contemporary American food based on seasonality, and is currently serving her one-year contract there.
“It was an eye-opening experience in terms of the working culture. The chefs there are constantly exposing us to challenges. I got the chance to man the pasta station for two weeks when the pasta chef went on leave. I made both fresh and extruded pasta, which was quite a unique experience. At Gramercy, I learned that top class food doesn’t have to be complicated or fanciful. It can be as simple and good if you know your ingredients well.”
“My most important takeaways from CIA are understanding recipes, and learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable because that is how it is in the kitchen. As what Chef Felder always says, ‘If you are not 50% afraid most of the time, you are not learning at all’.”
Photo caption: Wei Ling (front row) with her classmates during her externship in New York.