Careers in Food – Chef Trainer Tommy Koo

Today I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Mr Tommy Koo who is a chef-trainer at Shatec. A passionate individual, Tommy worked for about 4 years as a chef before becoming a teacher and trainer at his alma mata. Read on to find out more about his food-career journey and what his job actually entails.

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From what I understand you are currently a teacher at Shatec. Could you please tell us a little bit about your current role there?

As a trainer or teacher, I strongly believe that we must have 3 essential “ingredients”– the passion to teach, motivate and inspire. On a daily basis, I guide and coach students as they prepare and cook either in the individual stove kitchen or in the training restaurant... I also have the responsibility to carry out quality control checks on all food items to ensure the highest standard before it leaves the kitchen. This is also part of the learning for the students in the area of food safety.

Apart from the teaching of culinary skills, I also have to plan menus, calculate food cost and raise requisitions to purchase ingredients for students to produce the food.

In addition, there is also some administrative work such as the monitoring the well-being and performance of every student.

What was your career path like and how you came to be in your current position?

I was a Normal Academic student and after my final examination in secondary 2, I was able to opt for an "arts" subject. I chose Food & Nutrition because of my passion for food. At that point in time, I already aspired to be a chef in the future.

Right after my O levels, I told my parents that I would like to apply to study the Diploma in Culinary Skills at SHATEC. They were worried and uncertain about my decision as they were aware that the F&B industry is very demanding. The tuition fee was another issue. As such, I worked part-time for a year, to pay for my tuition fee.

I joined SHATEC In 2009; I started my journey in the F&B industry, at SHATEC. SHATEC was the place where I picked up all my basic skills and knowledge. After a year of studying on campus, I went through a year of industrial attachment, which was very rigorous and the expectations from the industry professionals were high.

After my industrial attachment I worked at various cafés and hotels to gain experience. One day, I was asked by a teacher if I was interested in teaching. I was initially reluctant. But eventually I decided to take up the challenge in June 2014 and began teaching Secondary 2 Food and Consumer Education.

I was invited back to teach at SHATEC as a trainer. I was hesitant at first as the expectations of being a trainer are very high but I was won over by the idea of grooming future chefs. .

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What training did you have to take to get to where you are now?

The kitchen environment is tough and exhausting. Because of my experience in the industry, my skills and knowledge improved as I learnt from the professional chefs. However there is the x-factor - there must be passion in your blood and mental determination to become a chef trainer.

Have you always wanted to do this? If you could do it over again, would you still pick this career path?

Yes, I have always wanted to work in a kitchen since I was 14. The kitchen is a place where I learn every day and where I feel most passionate about.

I will definitely go down the same path again. Food is something that everyone can relate to. To me, food is an art. Trend keeps changing and being in the culinary field is exciting and vibrant!

What is your advice for others, especially those starting out, who would like to do what you’re doing?

Once you know what you want to do, start young. The journey of a chef requires more experience than theory. Passion, humility, mental strength, hunger for knowledge, willingness to sacrifice, and a strong character, will put you in a good position to go faster. Stepping up to new challenges and having the ability to work as a team is also equally important and these are the attributes which will bring you far.

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 What is/are your favourite part/s about your job?

As a chef, I enjoy learning something new every day, learning from my mistakes, and gaining a sense of satisfaction from completing a job and watching customers appreciate the food prepared for them.

As a trainer, I am constantly amazed at my students’ progress and am glad to have been a part of it. I enjoy sharing my personal experiences and knowledge with them so as to mentally prepare them for the industry. I hope that all my students after graduating from SHATEC, will carry on working in this industry and make good progress as a culinary professional. One day, I wish to see all of them surpassing me and become even better than I.

 

Thank you for the interview Mr Tommy Koo!

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What to do when you burn or scald yourself

Hot pans, hot trays, open fires… the kitchen can definitely be an unsafe place and we all get hurt from time to time. That’s why it is important to know what to do when you sustain an injury, so for today’s post, I would like to talk about burns. [click to continue…]

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Food Wastage

I'm sure that most of you at some point in your life would have heard this statement, "Girl/boy-ah, finish your food, there are hungry children starving in Africa you know?" As annoying as this statement may be, I do find that a lot of us can be quite complacent about food wastage. Most of us think of food wastage as the food that we don't finish on our plate or the stuff in our fridge that gets tossed out because it has gone mouldy, but actually it starts much earlier than that in the food supply chain... [click to continue…]

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Food videos to watch online

Hurrah! Exams are over / nearly over and you probably have a little bit of spare time now so why not explore the internet for some inspirational food videos?

The following are a couple of my recommendations.

1. Food Curated

Food Curated

Food curated is a site put together by Liza Mosquito de Guia (yes, you are reading that correctly, Mosquito). She has a love for food and for telling a good story which just about perfectly explains what Food Curated is. Based in the US, Liza films and edits short videos of passionate food producers and their products, covering everything from Harissa chili paste to oysters. They are absolutely delightful to watch!

2. Taste Made

TasteMade

Perhaps you've already seen a couple of the videos from Taste Made floating around Facebook... According to their 'About' page, they 'enable Tastemakers to come together to discover and share their passion for great food and travel'. Food AND travel? I could spend a whole day on this site watching their video hosts share food from around the world. Some of my favourites are Day of Gluttony (two Asian guys eating things from different parts of america) and Hungry For (recipes from around the world).

OK, think that's enough to get you started on a food show binge.

Have suggestions for other good food channels on the internet? Why not share them in the comments below!

 

 

 

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Veggie Thursday

After last week's post on factory farming, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce Veggie Thursday to you. What's Veggie Thursday all about? Well basically the idea is to set Thursday aside as the day in the week in which you eat only vegetarian meals. According to the Singapore Veggie Thursday website, the idea of having one vegetarian day per week was suggested a few years back by Dr R.K. Pachauri of the UN's Intergovernmenal Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since then, different cities around the world have endorsed the idea, usually choosing either Monday or Thursday. [click to continue…]

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Where does your food come from?

Ever stopped to think about where the food on your plate comes from? Where was the bok choy in your stir fry grown and how was the chicken in your satay raised? In land scarce Singapore, most of our food is imported from neighbouring (and sometimes not so neighbouring) countries. We're quite far removed from how our food was produced and frankly it seems, not a lot of us even care. That is of course until there's some big news about asbestos going into milk or something like that... Until something like that happens, the prevailing attitude seems to be, 'As long as it tastes good and it's not too expensive, who cares where it came from or how it was grown / raised / harvested / slaughtered?'

The video above gives an introduction to the concept of factory farming. It is something which is not commonly talked about in our country because we are not an agricultural nation. While I am certainly not asking you to become vegetarian, I do hope that this will start you being a bit more conscious about what is on your plate.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this in the comments!

(Videos are from The Meatrix website. If you visit their site, consider taking some time to explore the other agricultural issues which the authors of the video care about.)

 

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Food garnishing – An interview with aspiring dietitian Michelle Gan

Today The School of Artful Eating talks to Michelle Gan. Michelle is currently studying to be a dietitian in Australia. For those of you who do not know what a dietitian is, their job is to help heal people through adjusting their diet. Besides having a passion to help people improve their health, Michelle is also passionate in another area of food, that is to garnish it! So in this brief interview, Michelle tells us why she is studying dietetics, how she developed her interest in garnishing food and how you can start learning how to garnish your dishes too. [click to continue…]

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Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine

You might not know it (or maybe you do), but there's an intense amount of science that goes into the cooking of food. Just take for example that beautiful brown crust that forms on your bread... that's a complex chemical reaction between proteins and carbohydrates that happens at high temperatures AND in dry conditions. Or as another example, wonderful mayonnaise is the magical result of egg yolk being able to bind otherwise unbindable ingredients vinegar and oil together to form what is known as an emulsion. (By the way, you'll get to learn about both of these reactions in upper secondary food & nutrition)

Ah... the science of food, an art in itself and truly employed to great effect in Nathan Myhrvold's books "Modernist Cuisine". In this video, Myhrvold geeks out on the food science talk and explains the process that went into the making of his book. I have two words for it, Absolutely Extraordinary.

If you ever want to buy your FCE/F&N teacher an inspiring gift, I would definitely put this on the top of the list haha

(What I'd like to know, how on earth did he keep the water in the pan if that thing was sawn in half?!)

And if you'd like more of his kitchen and food science geekiness, check out his cooking website, ChefSteps. It's chock-a-block with cool resources and some free cooking tutorials.

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Pancake Art – Part 2

If you've never made pancakes before and you're an absolute beginner, I recommend that you start with ... PANCAKE PREMIX. Yes, yes, I know what you're saying, 'PREMIX? Where's the skill in that?'. But, hear me out... if you've never done this before, then it's better to be able to just concentrate on making some nice shapes and flipping them properly. You can use a premix like the one below. The nice thing about this is that  you can keep the bottle for the next time you make pancakes from scratch. [click to continue…]

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Pancake Art – Part 1

Jim's Pancakes

Pancakes! Who doesn't love a good pancake? Especially when they're made into shapes like these? (The one above was made by Jim, you can click on the picture to have a look at his website.)

Jenni Price has a wonderful tutorial on how to make an ice-cream cone pancake which is perfect for a school lunch box or a special kid's weekend breakfast. She's even tried to make it healthier by using whole wheat flour. I'm hoping she used some natural food colouring as well...

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