Singaporeans love food. There’s usually as many photos of food on people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds as photos of human beings. After all, these days, anyone with tastebuds and a smartphone can call themselves a “food blogger”.
But becoming a chef? That’s a different thing. No matter how many seasons of MasterChef (and all the spin-offs) you’ve watched, it doesn’t automatically make you a genius in the kitchen. But if you have the passion for sweating it out all day next to a stove, and think you can handle the stress of the job that gives “pressure cooker” a whole new meaning, then read on.
1. Exactly what opportunities can you look forward to as a trained chef?
There’s no end to the career prospects of those who enter this industry, but it mainly depends on your skill and your perseverance. Head chef and sous chef (that’s second-in-command if you don’t know) positions are readily available in restaurants, hotels, even hospitals! Assuming you’re planning to perpetuate the stereotype that everything’s better than hospital food.
No matter how talented you are, most kitchens have a hierarchy that you cannot avoid. If you don’t come in with the pre-requisite number of years of experience, you’ll have to work your way up the ranks, and in a big kitchen, there are many, many levels to climb. If you’re looking for an easy industry to work in, this is definitely not the place for you. The reputations of chefs (both local and international) are born on the back of years and years of hard work, sweat and the occasional tear.
2. What’s the usual route of advancement to becoming a chef?
Typically, in a large kitchen, you start at the most junior level. Depending on whether you have any culinary experience, you could be doing the most menial jobs like peeling potatoes and onions, to preparing portions of ingredients for other chefs to use. There’s almost no actual cooking involved with these jobs, but they allow you to experience the stark reality of the F&B industry. If you can’t handle the heat at this level, then you definitely should get out of the kitchen. Literally.
Once you’ve spent 1 to 2 years at the entry level, you may be promoted to chef de partie. These is the blanket term for chefs who are in charge of a specific station. If you work in a large enough kitchen, there might be more than one person per station, but most of the time, you are the sole person responsible. Your specific role could involve fish, meats or even desserts.
After you’ve had 3 to 4 years of total culinary experience, you may be promoted to the managerial roles. You usually begin as a sous-chef. Depending on the size of your kitchen, there might be a further division of roles among the sous-chefs. You’ll start as a junior sous-chef and work your way up to senior sous-chef and executive sous-chef (for the larger kitchens). You will still be cooking, of course, but there’ll be additional responsibilities, like managing the chefs and planning a menu.
3. What are some of the recognized schools you can train at in Singapore?
So you’ve finished watching 5 seasons of MasterChef, as well as MasterChef Australia and MasterChef Junior and you’re still convinced you have what it takes to be a chef. Here are a couple of options for you.
A. Temasek Polytechnic
If time is not a factor when getting your diploma, consider Temasek Polytechnic’s 3-year diploma courses. They offer Baking and Culinary Science and Culinary and Catering Management. The main difference between the two courses are the greater emphasis on applied science and business respectively.
Singaporeans and PRs may be eligible for the Tuition Grant, which heavily subsidises the course fees. Citizens need only pay $2,593.60 per year, while PRs pay $5,123.60 per year. However, if you’re not eligible for the Tuition Grant (for example, if you have received it for another course) your fees will skyrocket to at least $20,000 a year.
If the cost of the diploma programme is too high, you may want to consider getting an education loan or applying with the following private schools instead.
B. At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy
Offering Diploma Programmes for Culinary Arts, Pastry and Bakery and Food and Beverage Management, At-Sunrice GlobalChef provides education that encompasses a wide range of skills in just 18 months. It involves a mixture of classroom study and apprenticeship which gives you an all-rounded experience.
For Singaporeans/PRs who qualify for WDA funding, it will only cost you $9,148.50 for the Culinary Arts diploma, $9,694.20 for the Pastry and Bakery diploma and $6,741.00 for the Food and Beverage Management diploma. These fees do not include the cost of equipment and insurance, where applicable.
If you are 35 years and above and not earning more than $1,900 per month, you can also qualify for funding from the Workfare Training Support scheme, which will subsidise up to 95% of the programme fee, saving you thousands of dollars.
You have the option of a Diploma in Culinary Skills or a Diploma in Pastry and Baking with SHATEC. Like At-Sunrice, the course is just 18 months long. Unlike At-Sunrice, which mixes classroom study and hands-on apprenticeship, SHATEC believes in separating the two. You will do a year’s worth of institutional training first, followed by a 6-month industrial attachment.
Singaporeans/PRs will need to pay $9,800.00 for the either diploma.
4. Of course, there is the option of striking it out on your own…
Whether you’ve worked in the industry for years or have just graduated with your new diploma, the temptation may be there to start your own place, where you can be chef, manager and boss. Just be warned of just how much competition you’ll be up against. Even if your dream is to create a café with a hipster vibe, one that stands out among the competition with sparse furnishing and great food with marked-up prices, remember that you won’t be the first nor the last to start one.
Alternatively, you may also try being a personal chef, where clients hire you to bring the “restaurant experience” to their homes by customising a menu for them, cooking it in their own kitchen, serving and then cleaning up after. You can also offer cooking classes to students either at a community centre, a school or even as a private teacher.
If you want to try something really off the beaten track, literally, you can follow the example of Julius Tan, a holistic balanced living chef at Green Circle Eco Farm at 41 Neo Tiew Road. He not only cooks, but farms as well, planting seeds in the nursery and monitoring the healthy growth of vegetables that they deliver direct to homes. He also prepares and conducts cooking lessons using ingredients fresh from the farm. Interested? Join him on one of his many farm tours, where he explains the culinary value and medicinal properties of the herbs and vegetables on the farm.
Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs in Singapore? Share them with us.