BAKER'S blood runs in the family for baking technologist Don Yong whose parents opened a bakery in the 1960s. One of his earliest memories is of icing a birthday cake as a 12-year-old at the bakery.
‘‘I don’t think the head chef was too pleased with me as both our iced cakes were on display and mine was sold first as it was more colourful! He actually banned me from entering the kitchen, but this did not put me off.”
Yong, who holds a Degree in Food Technology from the National College of Food Technology, University of Reading, and a Master’s in Food Technology from the University of Southampton, believes that acquiring basic knowledge and tips is important in establishing a good foundation in the art of baking.
He says: “For example, when making cream puffs, it is important to cook the flour properly as otherwise it will flatten when the eggs are put in. This will result in a thick paste which would not pipe out very well. This is what I mean when I say sharing knowledge is important. What’s the point of having the perfect recipe if you don’t understand the foundation of it all?
“There is always a reason for doing something – if a cookie recipe says to mix the sugar and butter together first, this is what has to be done. Someone who thinks that she is saving time by mixing in the flour at the same time will end up wondering why the dough is tough.
To share his passion for baking, Yong started the English Hotbreads School of Baking in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, in 1987. ‘‘It was set up in the same place where my parents had the bakery, so there is a continuity in tradition,” says Yong. He is chief executive officer of the school, which has since been renamed the Malaysian Institute of Baking (MIB). It gives out certificates and diplomas.
Says Yong: ‘‘Our credentials include recognition by City and Guilds International, London, in 1992. Our syllabus meets its requirements in the range of courses offered. To lay the foundation for an exciting and rewarding career in pastry-making and baking, theory must be coupled with practice and this is what happens at MIB as our facilities range from classrooms to practical workshops.’’
While tradition dies hard, Yong is constantly striving to come up with new innovations and recipes at his English Hotbreads bakery. For instance, the bakery has come up with a range of sugar-free jam, cookies and cakes, which Yong concocted as delicious sugar-free alternatives for his diabetic mother.
What does a baker do?
You don’t just bake cakes, pastries and breads. Once you have learnt the foundation, you will be able to adapt your recipes as you go along. It is important to constantly update your knowledge, not just in terms of recipes and ingredients, but also equipment which could help make your job easier while you concentrate on the more creative side.
Other important aspects include safety and hygiene at work and food preservation and nutrition as well. Some day when you are managing your own business, be it a bakery or working in an industrial kitchen, you will need to know all this. A well-trained baker can adapt well to any kitchen he joins.
Describe a typical day at work.
I give lectures to my students from 9am to noon. Besides baking, I teach them about safety and hygiene at work, kitchen maintenance and design, food preservation and nutrition, as well as the basic concepts in costing and marketing, production management, and even computing.
Many students ask me why they need to study these too, and I explain to them that it is important in terms of knowing what equipment and ingredients to order when they are running their own business or when working in a bakery. The computing part is important as students can surf the Internet for recipes and tips.
Then in the afternoon, I am in the workshop with my students. I believe in being a hands-on person; I train them in baking a variety of breads, pastries and cakes. I love working with dough and seeing it take shape; nothing beats the smell of freshly-baked goods.
I also conduct baking classes for adults on alternate days, from 6pm to 9.30pm. Our adult classes comprise many professionals who are interested in baking, either to earn a side income or to bake for family and friends. I remember we had a student who was big and burly and worked in the navy but produced light-as-feather pastries!
The academic board at MIB meets once a week and we have discussions about our curriculum and the need for improvements. I also work closely together with those in the industry – we try out new products for them and they provide industrial training for our students. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
I’ve even written a book called Bread Winners, in which I share all my baking tips and recipes.
What qualifications do you need?
School-leavers need at least three Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) credits and a keen interest in the field. They need not necessarily be high achievers but interest is important. Don’t worry if you have no knowledge of baking as we at MIB will teach you the foundation, so you will understand why a recipe has to be carried out a certain way for success.
For example, we tell our students what baking powder is. There’s no point in just knowing that it has to be added to a recipe. We teach them that by doing so, carbon dioxide is released and helps make bread rise.
At MIB, we offer a Diploma in Baking Science and Technology. Mature students without qualifications but with relevant working experience will be given an entry test.
An integral part of the diploma is that students must complete the industrial training at our facility or with one of our strategic alliances. The effective combination of theory and practice during the course exposes our students to an actual working environment that helps develop the right attitude and expands their knowledge as well.
Besides baking, it is also important for students to learn about safety and hygiene at work, food preservation and nutrition, basic management, concepts in costing and marketing, production management, business communication, computing and leadership.
Some may think baking is more a girl’s forte but in our classes, we have an even mix of boys and girls and both do equally well.
At MIB, we also offer shorter-duration certificates in baking, advanced continental cakes and cookies, nyonya kuih and cake decoration.
What kind of personality suits this career?
You need a passion for baking. You have to be artistic as you must constantly come up with new things. You will be standing near hot ovens all day long, so you definitely have to like what you’re doing!
What’s the best part of your job?
I love the hands-on parts – working with dough and seeing the product fresh out of the oven. It is the satisfaction of creating something. It is also a good feeling when students bake something for the first time and you see the wonder and happiness on their faces.
Everyone thinks that making bread is hard but once you know the foundation, it’s not a problem. I always enjoying seeing my students bake bread for the first time and seeing it turn out well.
You meet all kinds of people in this field and if you teach with sincerity, students will know and appreciate it. I have found that when you are willing to share so is the other person. One of my former students was the son of a roti canai seller and I had always wanted to learn the art of making good roti canai. So, one day after class, he brought me to his father’s stall where his father shared an old family secret with me on the art of making delicious roti canai.
What’s the worst part of your job?
I can’t think of a worse part apart from the long hours, which is something I’m used to.
What is the salary range?
Armed with a diploma, you would get a minimum of RM1,200; it could be more, depending on the job and place you join. But you will progress on the salary scale once you gain more experience.
The MIB diploma does not just get the student ready to bake, he will also understand the basics of opening a business, such as a bakery or working from home, in terms of costing and management skills.
This is a respectable profession and as long as you have the foundation, you can really pick and choose what you would like to do. For example, you can choose to work for in-house bakeries in hypermarkets and hotels, or open your own business – really, the sky is the limit in terms of career prospects.
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