Before embarking on this new journey, I had to really think whether this was exactly the path I would be taking for the long run rather than going through a faze and just exploring a new “expensive” hobby. By the age of 17, I approached my dad to tell him after my summer working at a boutique hotel in Santorini that I wanted to pursue a career in culinary and we had already started thinking of which schools to attend – either in Switzerland or in Lyon. But the reason why I didn’t end up following through was due to a number of valuable reasons that ALL future culinary students need to know:
1. The hours are long, shifts can go up to 15hrs straight,
2. You are constantly on your feet,
3. Pay isn’t great,
4. Constantly yelled at by the head/sous chefs or even colleagues with the “push push” mentality,
5. Be prepared to be in a competitive environment, because if you do not deliver excellence you can easily be replaced by someone who can deliver,
6. Depending on some kitchens, it can be male dominated and the attitude towards women cooks can be quite sexist,
7. Say goodbye to weekends and evenings as you’re given sundays off and an alternative weekday.
A main concern for me was something I hadn’t listed, which is suffering from some form of epilepsy, I personally chose to not take medication as it means taking it for life. Though I don’t often get fits, it does trigger more when stressed, fatigue, doing fast pace moments (sports or just simply getting out of my chair).
So, this is why I chose going to university as it was safer for me, also because I was a failure in my studies, I took this as a challenge to prove all my past teachers, family and myself that I was in fact able to achieve in completing a bachelor degree. Through the years however, I couldn’t stop saying “what if i did go to cooking school? How would my life be?” This was a crystal clear sign that epileptic or not, cooking was still on my mind and that I needed to pursue it rather than ignore it. It didn’t take much convincing, dad was incredibly ecstatic in hearing I hadn’t given up on becoming a cook (he always calls me chef even after I tell him I cannot given myself that title or credit because I haven’t worked the hours/years), of course this was going to be a great duo for him because it means eventually opening a cafe where he runs the front of house and I, the kitchen… But that’s his dream, not mine. Everyone has been incredibly supportive during my transition from university student to culinary student.
Photos below are during my first semester of Basic Cuisine.
Still finishing with my last semester of university, I do remember my mom mentioning about this English TV cook, food writer, Cookbook publisher – Rachel Khoo and how she went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris after a few years in the Public Relations industry. Reading more on her journey, I couldn’t help but see myself in her stories. Not being a copy cat or anything! But we are quite similar with being eurasians and having a love for food, as well both attending Le Cordon Bleu.
Just before I got accepted into Basic Cuisine, I had to write a ‘Letter of Motivation’ explaining why I wanted to attend the school etc. It pretty much brought me back to the uni days where you’re applying to any university before getting accepted to the one you’ve been praying for. Not only was I looking forward to attending Le Cordon Bleu, i was looking forward to learning more about my French roots. I got to learn about all the French regions, types of food, it’s cheese and wine’s.
Be prepared to be overloaded with cooking with butter, cream and SALT.
Day 1 – Orientation Day
Don’t stress about orientation, I created a whole drama in my mind because I had no idea what to expect on my first day. I thought I was going to start cooking right then and there? It’s actually very relaxed! Firstly, you get allocated into your group of 15-16 classmates who are from an international background. Then the chef gives you the grand tour of the campus, kitchens, locker rooms and discusses the fire safety procedures etc. You then go into one of the class rooms and collect your ID badge, Wusthof knife kit, chef whites and get an allocated locker. All this takes less than half a day.
Day 2 – Class in session
During your demonstrations where the chef receives ALL the groups in his demo kitchen to show what we’ll be cooking for our practicals. We are handed a folder which is referred to the bible, because in there is all the recipes you’ll be learning throughout the semester and extra information on cheese, wine and exams. From then on, you’re always required to have your folder with you, to always have cleaned, pressed WHITE uniform with your badge attached. Women are expected to have their hair tied up and away from their face, along with a hair net (they sell hair nets in Boots or in reception), men also need to be clean shaved or wear a beard net (sold at the school reception). Watches and any visible form of jewellery will be asked to be removed during the class times, this is because if you get burnt in the kitchen, the extent of it will be extreme. Women with false eye lashes and obvious make up will be asked to wash it off or be sent home.
During your time at Le Cordon Bleu, whether it be 3, 6 or 9 months. Be expected to start classes at 8AM sharp, if you’re 15minutes over that time, the chefs will not allow you into the class and you’ll be required to go home and be marked as absent. Chef’s do not tolerate tardiness and signs of being disrespectful towards the rest of the class. From day one, we are trained and molded to becoming chefs, which means early starts, long days on campus that can sometimes go on from 8Am-6.30Pm or till 9.30Pm. As well as always answering to every chefs as “yes, CHEF!”
During the practicals, like cooking competitions AKA MasterChef, students are given a presentation time. At first, this is overwhelming and you do not present on time, but through time, you become more organized, time management becomes second nature and the “push push” adrenaline mentality kicks in. This gives a glimpse to the chefs to see whether you have what it takes for the industry and whether you can handle the pressure, because a lot of students i’ve met through the course thought that culinary training was cooking for leisure and presenting at your own time, talking and giggling without being yelled at by the chef. A lot of students cracked under pressure and cried because they couldn’t handle the criticizing from the chefs or because they couldn’t stop getting burnt or accidentally cutting their fingers. This is a challenge for current and future students who need to put in mind, this is a cooking world, just because you’re a foodie and love to eat and cook at home doesn’t mean it’ll be the exact same experience in a culinary school. It’s definitely something to consider if this is a career to pursue.
Photos below are during my second semester of Intermediate Cuisine.
I enjoyed every moment, I’ve been lucky to have attended Le Cordon Bleu and learnt from chefs who’ve worked in Michelin Star restaurants. Not only that, but i’ve been grateful to have been working side by side with students who were friendly and helpful, apparently not every classes are as organised or as friendly as you wish it to be. It definitely helps to have a class group chat on whataspp to keep everyone updated and share photos of dishes you’ve learnt from a demo. I’ve become a better cook at home, where I am more organised and faster. Though, I’ve always wanted to pursue becoming a chef since young, the older I’ve become and the more I ventured into this new journey with culinary school and kitchen internships, I finally know what it is I want to do with my career, by incorporating my uni degree with my culinary certificates.