A BIG scar on his left torso caused by a kitchen mishap at the age of four did not deter Eugene Yap Sze Choon, 20, from pursuing his passion for cooking.
“I slipped a sausage into the frying pan and oil splashed onto me,” recalls Eugene, who spent much of his childhood at his grandmother's home where he had the opportunity to help with food preparation.
“She even let me in on some old-school tricks, like using more oil to cook fried rice so that it doesn't stick to the wok,” he adds.
Since then, he has always aspired to be a chef and own a fusion food restaurant by the age of 35.
“My parents weren't very supportive of my ambition in the beginning. They wanted me to be an engineer or work in some air-conditioned office. However, my interest was not there. I want to be creative and create magnificent food,” he says.
Eugene will be pursuing the Diploma in Professional Chef Training at KDU College from July.
Inspired by Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda who owns an eponymous restaurant in Sydney, Eugene hopes to train under him.
“He's the best chef in the world and is famous for his French and Japanese fusion cuisines. He has a great way of presenting his food and making it appealing to people,” he says.
Eugene worked as a bartender at the 18th-20th Century Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur immediately after Form Five, and did Form Six at SMK Sultan Abdul Samad in Petaling Jaya.
Since leaving school he has been working as a bartender at Dave's Pizza Pasta Rino in Kuala Lumpur.
After getting his diploma, Eugene hopes to obtain a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University. At KDU, Eugene will learn cooking techniques and kitchen management skills.
Dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management Kitty Lee says: “Eighty per cent of their studies will be in the kitchen, learning pastries, breads, cakes, desserts, butchery, ice and butter carvings and more.”
During the final semester, students will have the opportunity to run their own business at one of the college's three training restaurants – Café 87, Windows of Damansara or Connexions.
“They manage everything from profit-making, to marketing and creating the menu,” Lee adds.
Chef Zamzani, host of the Garam Gula programme on Astro, heads the KDU kitchen team.
“We even bring in celebrity chefs, including Chef Wan and Chef Ismail, to conduct cooking demonstrations,” says Lee.
Eugene relishes the opportunity of learning from the best “I like to cook all kinds of food, from Chinese to Italian,” he says. Unlike Eugene, Mazlee Mohammad from Pahang loves dishing out Western and Spanish cuisines.
“I've been working at Montes Restaurant as a chef for two years now and have gained extensive experience in this industry which I find most interesting,” said Mazlee, who has worked in Kuala Lumpur for four years.
When he was 19, Mazlee worked at Musandra Restaurant as a kitchen helper, earning RM800 a month. His salary has now almost doubled.
Mazlee's speciality is homemade chicken liver pâté. “It's a Spanish dish which I sell for RM6.50 a cup. I get orders up to three times a week and earn about RM270 a week.”
The 24-year-old enjoys his mother's masak lemak when he goes home every year. He has an elder brother who sells nasi lemak in Shah Alam. Like Eugene, Mazlee hopes to set up his own restaurant one day. He plans to name it Layaran Restaurant and offer a mixture of Spanish, Western and local cuisines.
Mazlee looks forward to learning about butchery, food nutrition, sales techniques, and costing and control when he takes the Diploma in Professional Chef Training, awarded by Switzerland's International Management Hotel Institute.
“We get visiting lecturers from Switzerland, and chefs from five-star hotels and restaurants throughout Malaysia to assess the students and give them useful culinary tips,” says Lee.
Students must “be ready to spend long hours in the kitchen because it's not a sit down programme. They need to be committed, independent and creative,” she adds.
Both Eugene and Mazlee are recipients of The Star Education Fund scholarship.
Fine arts and media studies
Another scholarship recipient is Asia News Broadcasting producer Nicholas Andrew John, 21, who is excited to continue his studies after a year of toiling in the working world.
“I've been working round-the-clock, often getting only an hour of sleep at the end of the day,” said Nicholas who will study for a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies at KDU, and do the final year at Murdoch University, Australia.
Nicholas, who holds a Diploma in Fine Arts and Media Studies from the Center for Advanced Design in Kuala Lumpur, describes working life as challenging. As a producer, his responsibilities include interviewing, scriptwriting, shooting, and editing.
“It's like one person taking up seven jobs. My favourite project was Cities Around the World, where I had the opportunity to travel to Dublin and interview the president of Ireland,” he says.
His portfolio includes designing the billboard for the recent NAM summit in Kuala Lumpur.
Nicholas hopes to some day make it big in the filmmaking industry, as a screenwriter and director.
He says: “It's sad that people don't think much of our local TV programmes. Although its quality is sometimes doubtful, I believe it will soon improve.
“I am looking forward to making the most of my time in Australia. I believe it is a very valuable experience to learn from people of other cultures. Our perspectives are still very Malaysian and it is time we look outside the box, how people in other countries think.”
Scholarships still available
Scholarships for the Certificate in Culinary Skills programme are still available.
Students will learn various cooking methods, including butchery and pastry.
“It is a one-year programme designed for people who want to upgrade their competency. All you need to have is interest and focus,” said KDU principal Dr Chia Chee Fen.
For more information, call the Star Education Fund Unit at 03-7967 1642.
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