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.
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. .
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.
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!