The Interview - Insights from a Taylor's University Culinary Arts Student

01.04.2013 updated by admin
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Campus Malaysia managed to catch up with one of Taylor's University outstanding Culinary Arts student to find out more about his success story and advice for students who are planning to get into Culinary Arts. Find out more on what it takes:-

The Interviewee

Chen Kim Leun (22) a degree student with Taylor’s University is in the midst of completing his final semester of the Bachelor of Culinary Management. Besides winning the NestlĂ© Professional Culinary Arts Award in 2012, he has also represented Malaysia and brought home the gold medal for cooking at the recent Asean Skills Competition, ASC 2012 in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is currently undergoing intense training in preparation for the upcoming World Skills Competition 2013 at Leipzig, Germany this July. Despite his busy schedule, we had the privilege to sit down and talk to him about his amazing experience.

 
The Interview
 
Hey Kim Leun! Congratulations on your recent winning in Jakarta! 
 
Campus Malaysia: First of all, how has the competition been for you? 
 
Kim Leun: It has been a great experience! I spent 6 months preparing for this competition. The first 3 months were spent on research; seeking inspiration and coming up with new recipes. The following months were spent in the kitchen. Dishes kept changing as new ideas came about; there were 7 dishes and each dish had to be prepared 5 times! There was a lot of work to be done, some days I stayed back after class and trained till night.
 
At times it was tough juggling classes and training, thankfully my lecturers (Puan Siti) had my classes rearranged so I could attend classes and train. My classmates really helped me a lot, without them I’d be dead! 
 
Campus Malaysia: Besides winning the award, what other valuable experience and lessons did you gain from the competition?
 
Kim Leun: It was important to be mentally, physically and emotionally stable throughout the entire time. My busy schedule taught me how to manage my time better and find the right balance. Understanding my body’s limits, spending time with loved ones and always having a positive and determined attitude.
 
Campus Malaysia: Can you give us some insights on the preparation that you did for this competition? What do you think are the key factors that contributed to your winning at this competition? Out of these key factors, what would you attribute most to your winning at this competition? 
 
Kim Leun: During my training on campus, I was given a station at the stewarding area. There was no air conditioning there, and I even had to work with a portable stove! In the beginning, I was really disturbed about the limited facilities given to me, but I came to understand that it was important to train in a difficult environment because the actual competition kitchen conditions were unknown to us and there would be no time for me to get adapted to it. I was told that if I managed to adapt to this environment and if the competition grounds were better, I would be able to perform better; if the environment would be equally bad, I would still be able to perform.
 
This training proved its worth as the conditions at the ASC were less equipped and ventilated. I started sweating like crazy the moment I stepped in! It was uncomfortable, but I had already gotten pass that.
 
Besides that, I always abided by a time management chart in which every task was scheduled down to the second. It was really important to keep to it; when took an extra minute completing a task, I had to compensate for the lost time in the next task by working faster. Although cleaning and washing were not required of me during the competition, they were still included in my chart during training. This gave me the much needed extra time during the actual event.
 
As I had to work at full speed from the beginning right up till the end and there was no space for breaks; I had to learn how to de-stress, have control over my mind and body to focus on completing tasks and avoid tiredness.
 
I must say that I am thankful for the intense training my mentor, Chef Farouk, had put me through. All the effort, sweat and tears during those tough months shone through.
 
Campus Malaysia: Who is your role model?
 
Kim Leun: Since my second year of diploma, I have had Chef Farouk as my lecturer. He was also my lecturer during my advanced diploma and has seen me through my competition trainings, so I’ve spent a lot of time with him. He pushes me a lot! There are many times when I had asked him questions and he had always responded saying ‘You have to try! Nothing is impossible!’
 
He is always generous and willing to share, but he also wants to see that I have that willingness to learn, so I have to keep asking. He knows that my strengths and weaknesses well; because of that, he has been able to guide me by helping me to improve on the minute details in my dishes.
 
Campus Malaysia: Among the many areas of education, what inspired you to study culinary arts? 
 
Kim Leun: After sitting for my SPM, I wanted to choose a course that had more practical classes because I didn’t like studying. When I realized that I was beginning to be interested in cooking, I started searching for universities to study at. I finally decided on Taylor’s University because they offered a French programme and had a lot of practical classes!
 
Initially, I had no intentions to pursue my degree; but with the persuasion of my peers and lecturer, Chef Farouk, who told me to continue studying, I immediately registered.
 
Campus Malaysia: What is cooking to you? 
 
Kim Leun: To me, cooking doesn’t only happen in the kitchen, instead it is constantly ongoing when you’re out of there; dining out and eating what other chefs have made is part of cooking as well. The palate plays a huge role because it helps me learn from others’ cooking; what texture and taste I would like to recreate and bring to the table or avoid making. Tasting is important, as tasting will tell you the problem and what changes should be made to improve the dish. When I am back in the kitchen I can put all of that into practice.
 
Many chefs have told me that in the kitchen there are two things you need: patience and interest. Only with these two things combined you will be able to go further to greater heights
 
Campus Malaysia: Do you think getting a diploma/degree is essential for those who aspire to be chefs? Are there any advantages in pursuing a formal education? What advice would you give to people who are interested to pursue a career in culinary arts?
 
Kim Leun: Yes, a formal education is important today because kitchen technology is improving. Both practical and theory classes are essential as without the basics taught in class, it will be difficult to adapt to the environment. Looking back, I have learnt that kitchen theory classes are really important as cooking is of science, it is important to understand how science works first; science will explain the end result of a dish and tell you what changes are to be done to develop a better dish.
 
I also believe that it is always important to respect chefs, not just those that are in charge of you, but also those who are around you and older than you. Having a good attitude towards the people in your environment is a must!
 
Campus Malaysia: Since winning the Nestlé Professional Culinary Arts Award 2012, and now the ASC; how has this changed you? What are your future plans and where do you see yourself in 5 years? What do you think you would be doing upon completion of your degree programme in Taylors?
 
Kim Leun: The experience makes me want to work harder to prove that I am capable. My mentor told me that each time you reach another achievement; it is time to throw away your previous goals and set new ones. In 5 years time, I would like to become a competition chef; seeing what other chefs from different countries are doing and learning how to create new dishes. Though, by my 30s, I would like to own a restaurant of my own!
 
Kim Leun, thank you for sharing your experience with us and we wish you all the best in the World Skills Competition!
 
 
Taylor's University programmes are available and can be applied through Campus Malaysia website. For more details on Culinary courses at Taylor's University, click here