Culinary School

August - October 2011
My Next Baby Step

I have some exciting news to share today. I enrolled and have been accepted as a student with at-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy ( I START ON MONDAY!

It's a 2-month Certificate Programme for novices who want to be professionally-trained in culinary arts, or for career switchers considering entering this industry, or for the older folks who want to upgrade their skills. By all counts, I suppose I'm the right target audience. Modules include food safety, kitchen hygiene and kniving skills. I will also be exposed to 8 different Asian and Western cuisines, and 2 types of cooking techniques: dry (grill, fry) and moist (steam, boil, poach).

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency offers Work Skills Training Support Schemes and will fund 90% of this course fee. (They should have told me pre-General Elections, LOL.) I intend to maximise my citizenship rights and make full use of this subsidy. I would also strongly encourage you to check out the other courses that WDA also provide subsidies for. Click here for more information.

This means the end of my commercial kitchen internship and the beginning of a student life for the next 8 weeks. I will miss my sous chef who has introduced me to how a professional kitchen operates and given me a wonderful first experience. I will miss greeting people with just a raise of the chin : )

"I'm a foreigner in this land" of culinary arts but His Word shall sustain me. This is from the Bible in Psalms 119. I also happened to see this quote today that speaks to me -

"Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory, nor defeat."

Life begins when you're out of your comfort zone. I guess I won't be needing these things for a while.

New to this site? Check out the author of this post and what this blog is all about.

Happy First Day of School
Day One at-Sunrice Global Chef Academy - it felt like I was attending Primary One all over again.  Price tags still stucked on brand new chef shoes and stickers showing T-shirt sizes separate the newbies from the more sophisticated-looking diploma students. We were issued our new chef jackets - hear this - with our names sewed on it. How cool is that. I like their philosophy of "calling forth" - yes, call us chefs and we'll start to think of ourselves as just that.

Groovy chef, yeah!
Here's one happy Primary One kid. I'm from Class 007 - kewl!

We were briefed on the vision and mission of at-Sunrice - Advancing culinary arts through integrity and meaning. We do this through learning East and West cultures, Old World and New World Cuisines, Herbs and Spices, and Work and Study rotations. Respect, Integrity and Honesty are key foundational values they hold close to heart. I can live with that. 

For 2 whole hours, we had the most senior manager available to answer any questions we may have. I asked the most! What's his advice for career switchers? Just how hot is the kitchen and how tough is the industry? What's the gender trend? What are the obstacles in opening and managing your own restaurants? What's the profit margin? What's the hierarchy in the kitchen - what's commis, Cook 1, 2, 3, junior chef, sous chef, executive chef? What is the salary range? To what extent is Asia a key player in the culinary scene? Are paper qualifications helpful or even needed at all? What's the difference between hotel kitchens and restaurant kitchens? Does entering this industry mean the end of all my weekends and public holidays? You'd think I'm an old fart journalist! He was patient, professional, insightful in his responses and spoke with a candour not-often-enough seen in the diplomatic corporate world.  

He then went on to give us a list of rules and regulations - You may have been a senior executive but this is a school and you're a student and there are rules to abide by. An unprofessional kitchen is a dangerous place to work in. After some vivid description of industrial accidents in the kitchen, we were all ears. 

My son came home from school and shot me many questions before he even put his bag down - Mom, do you have homework? Yes, read NEA website on food handling. Do you have exams? Yes, this Thursday! Did you make any new friends? Yes, so far, one engineer who wants to understand the science of cooking, one house-husband who wants to learn the art of cooking, one chicken seller with dreams of opening his own restaurant, one grandmother seeking new purpose in life, one teacher who wants to launch a second career, one Israeli, one Indian. 

One lady told me she has 6 years of kitchen experience working in a Thai and Chinese restaurant but now she needs paper qualifications. And she is 65! She can cook all kinds of chilli in the world. I said, Teach me! She's more than willing to show me her culinary skills. Everyone had one thing in common - maturity, stability, strong renewed sense of purpose in signing up for this. All above 40. Old new students. I admire their strong desire and motivation to learn and courage to leave their comfort zone by choice. They moved their own cheese. That is truly inspirational.

We also got a Student Handbook and Planner and our timetable for the next 8 weeks. Kitchen work starts tomorrow. Everyday, one of us will take turns to act as the sous chef to plan and delegate the work and manage the team. I am so looking forward to waking up tomorrow.

Don't Dream of Stepping Into the Kitchen Until You Get a 70% Pass on Food Safety

Did you know that bacteria multiply between temperatures 5 - 60 degrees Celsius? This means you have to store your cold food below 5 degrees and your hot food above 60 degrees to prevent bacteria growth.

I was disappointed to learn that we would not be stepping into the kitchen until mid next week. We have to prove we are safe food handlers before we are allowed in. So this morning was more classroom work on contamination, food safety, microbiology, bacteria multiplication, golden rules for thawing food and personal grooming. I failed in my nails and I just clipped them last night! "If I can see the white of your nails, it's too long. Germs can breed there." Bye bye, manicure.

I quickly got excited again when we were issued our personal knife sets, aprons, chef's hats and kitchen towels.

An 8" Chef Knife, a 31/2" paring knife, and a peeler.
I want to engrave "Extra Virgin Chef" on my virgin knife set!
Hygiene, grooming and safety standards at-Sunrice are top notch, higher than the regulatory requirement, so here I am at the clinic getting my typhoid jab.

The doctor asked if I got a good photo shot if not he could jab again!

Always attracted to vibrant colours, these baby chairs at the clinic caught my attention.
They also remind me of my knives!

As the lectures got a bit dry, the Chef was sweet enough to give us a couple of 20-min breaks. I grabbed my camera from the locker to snap a few pictures of the diploma class in pastry and bakery (DPB) just down the hall. I wasn't allowed in so these are taken from a glass window. I don't know if I was even allowed to shoot but I decided on asking for forgiveness and not permission.

"Looks like quite a happening class!" - a student from the diploma in culinary arts (DCA) commented.

More lectures tomorrow on food safety and then an oral exam on Thursday.

Snooping Around

Another day on Safe handling of food before the exams tomorrow. Dry but important topic and I could see a few classmates with heavy eyelids. Some of these guys work in the afternoons and come back to class in the mornings, so I suppose it's tough on them.

I love zipping out at break time to see what the other classes are up to. This culinary school is abuzz with all sorts of interesting activities and so I snoop around with my Canon, again. Here are some shots to share with you from today. Hope they give you a sense of the school.

Leaving the house at the break of dawn still needs some getting used to. I snapped this while wearing my shoes.
Diploma students learning culinary knife cuts - julienne and brunoise

This is the superwoman I mentioned in a previous post - she ran her first marathon at 49 and is launching into her
third career in culinary arts. Today, she and her classmates are being assessed on filleting fish and trussing chicken.

Er...bad photography

A student has her vegetables laid out to wait while she works on the chicken.
Wine-tasting class - I want to join!
Part of food safety - blue chopping board for seafood, green for greens, red for red meat, yellow for chicken and white for cooked food. How many chopping boards do you have at home?
Pastry students preparing desserts for a special evening today.
Pastry student shapes a rose petal.

Word of the Week: Barding & Larding

Barding a bird
Every Wednesday, the sous chef shares a culinary Word of the Week with us. This morning, he taught me "Barding" and "Larding". Barding is the act of wrapping bacon streaks (or fats) around a piece of meat (usually poultry) before roasting to keep it moist, tender and juicy.  Larding is injecting the fats into the inside of the bird using special tools.

I have never heard of this until today. I love this learning journey.

Look out for next week's Word of the Week on Wednesday (my new WWW).

Afternote: see my first attempt at barding. It's fun, easy and rewarding! And it makes you feel "chaffy”!

How “Food-Safe" Are You? For Your Loved Ones' Sake, Take This Quiz.

Today, we were assessed on our knowledge of safe handling of food. One by one, we went in to be grilled on 30 questions based on what we have learned the past 3 days. Here's a sampling of the Qs. I challenge you to take this quiz and test your general knowledge and food safety awareness.

1. Name 4 types of germs that can be found in food.

2. Identify 2 types of food contamination.

3. Why is personal hygiene important in food safety?

4. Name 3 types of food contaminants.

5. What is the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) where bacteria can multiply?

6. Name one safe way to thaw food.

7. Name 2 types of food-borne illnesses.

8. Name 2 safe ways to store food in the fridge.

9. How do you look for signs of pest presence in the kitchen?

10. Why does the fridge temperature need to be monitored?

I Barded!

Honestly, my home kitchen violates most of the food safety rules of the professionally run commercial kitchen. There are some quick wins and changes I can do immediately which I will, including checking the temperature of my chiller and freezer.

Have fun with the quiz. It's worth doing even to increase awareness and protect your loved ones from unnecessary harm. I'll share answers on Sunday night. Cheers!

There isn't a more refined way to say this or do this. Barding, as I described in an earlier post last week, which is also last Wednesday's Word of the Week, is the act of wrapping animal fats around a small piece of poultry before you cook it. This retains moisture in the poultry, especially in small birds.

I have 3 cornish game hens from Ben's Food which I marinated overnight with sea salt, black pepper, thyme, parsley, and some turmeric powder for colour and because it's healthy.

I remembered I have some bacon streaks also from Ben's and decided it would be fun to try barding. (It sounds like, It would be fun to try planking!) It's a good way to remember what I learned in class too. 

I decided to have some fun with these small birds. Do you see a double plank of the other 2 awaiting hens? They look so cute!

This is so weird and funny, whoever invented barding. I feel like I'm wearing a sarong or dress for the dead bird. Then I thought, ok, the poor birds deserve some dignity. Every creature that gives its life for our table should be treated with class, and I stop fooling around.

Popped into the oven 180C for 40 minutes. Here's the before and after look. The caramelised bacon gave off a smoky aroma that filled the kitchen. A million-dollar feeling when I opened the oven door.

I was almost afraid to unveil the hens but we were running late for church and the family swarmed down on the meat so quickly I had no time to take pictures. By golly, I have to tell you in all honesty, the meat was succulent, tender, juicy and massively moist!

Came back from church and took a shot of the remaining pieces which didn't remain very long. They still looked very juicy.

To complement the barded chickens, I made a quick Jamie Oliver's mushroom soup together with my crusty bread.

A good day in the office for me.

By the way, do you know you can bard dates and figs too? Click here to see these great snacks.

OK, this is what I asked you last week regarding food safety. Did you attempt the Qs? Even just reading them will be helpful to raise some self awareness, and that is always the first step. Well, here are the answers based on notes I took in class. Do educate and challenge me if you read anything that contradicts this.

Food Safety Quiz - Answers

1. Name 4 types of germs that can be found in food.
A: Bacteria, virus, fungi, parasites

2. Identify 2 types of food contamination.
A: Direct contamination where germs can be found in the food, and indirect contamination where the food is safe but tools and equipment you use are not, eg, chopping board

3. Why is personal hygiene important in food safety?
A: Because germs get transferred from human beings (eg, hair, nails, hands) to food

4. Name 3 types of food contaminants.
A: Biological (bacteria, virus), Physical (foreign objects in food like toothpick, staples, nails, hair), and Chemical (insecticide, pesticide, fertilisers)

5. What is the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) where bacteria can multiply?
A: Bacteria can reproduce between 5-60 degrees Celsius and most rapidly between 16-49 degrees Celsius. This means your cold food needs to be stored below 5 and hot food above 60. Check your chiller - it should not be more than 5. Mine was 7 when I checked.

6. Name one safe way to thaw food.
A: Leaving them in room temperature to thaw is not safe for the reasons given in Question 5. You can move your food from the freezer to thaw in the fridge, just remember to give it a day or two to thaw. Microwave if you need to cook it immediately. 

7. Name 2 types of food-borne illnesses.
A: Typhoid, dysentry, cholera

8. Name 2 safe ways to store food in the fridge.
A: Place raw meat in a storage container to prevent liquid from flowing out and cross contaminating other food. Also place them below cooked food. My fridge definitely needs major re-organisation!

9. How do you look for signs of pest presence in the kitchen?
A: No, not talking about children here, tsk tsk. Look out for droppings of rodents and roaches, also look out for holes in wooden cupboards. Commercial kitchen cabinets are all stainless steel so pests cannot reside and bite.

10. Why does the fridge temperature need to be monitored?
A: Because of Question 5 la!

Is this at all helpful? Not a sexy post, I know, but an important one that all of us should take upon ourselves to learn and practise and preach.

Every Orientation Presupposes A Disorientation

I went to school hungry this morning and just murmuring that
somehow God will provide. True enough, our classmate from Israel
turned up with a chocolate cake to share!
We finally got to step into those beautiful kitchens I've been admiring from a distance outside the glass windows. Not to cook but to get orientated and understand the functions of the various tools and equipment. A key takeaway from the morning lecture for me was this - Proper tools are essential and could mean the difference between a job well done and one done carelessly, incorrectly or even dangerously. Doing the kitchen orientation brought this to life for me. In our home kitchen, and in the Asian context in particular, we seem to practise minimalism - you can use a Chinese chopper for almost everything including opening a tin can! The western concept, on the contrary, seems to have a tool for everything, even zesting a lemon, which my mom would dismiss as totally unnecessary, wasteful and "ley-chey" (troublesome, in local slang). I think a safe and practical balance between the 2 can be achieved.

With a thick layer of beautiful ganache! He is sweeter than the cake.
God bless his sweet soul. He's the one who wants to cook well
for his wife and daughter. I want to know who his Singaporean-
corporate-lawyer-wife is!
In the Asian Kitchen, we saw a modern
tandoor at 400 degrees Celsius.
I was excited to hear we will be learning
to do a naan later in the course.
This is a Tandoor pillow used to slap
the naan dough onto the Tandoor walls.
The dough will stick and cook there.

2 long skewers are then used to flip it back up.
Giant-sized dough hook, beater and balloon whisk. 

For baking a cake for Goliath

Rice cooker for Goliath

Skillet cooking pasta sauce for Goliath

Salamander - browns the cheese on top of your baked rice in seconds

Meat slicer and all the industrial accident horror stories.
I'm not going near this man-eater.

Sorry, no more pix as I had to take notes after that but we got a chance to go into the walk-in chiller at 4C and the walk-in freezer at -12C and tried to trap some classmates in there. We quickly snapped back to behaving when the younger students marched past us. We toured the Asian Kitchen divided into stove cooking and induction cooking. (2 cups of water can boil in 8 seconds with induction!) We saw very cool, James-Bond kitchen gadgets complete with blue tooth functionality.

The chef announced at the end of the tour that tomorrow, we will do the Pastry and Bakery Kitchen orientation. I let out a girlish Yeah! as if I had just won some Bieber concert tickets, to my own embarrassment! Hee hee.

Well, that's it for today. Signing off for now. Culinarily yours, Extra Virgin Chef.

Dressed for Success
Dressed to grill
Being a first class chef is not only being able to cook great food, you also have to look the part. This is truly Primary One elementary class - how to wear your apron, your grandmother hair net (I really don't fancy this one at all), chef hat, and personal kitchen towel. Remember when Catherine Zeta Jones folded her apron in No Reservations? It's in fact a safety precaution to fold in the apron strings so they don't get caught in machineries.

In this picture is my regular seat in the lecture room. I look like a complete goon, and the thumbs up sure don't help, hahaha. "You score points for dressing safely, not prettily." So on top of everything else, I have to also park whatever remaining beauty is left on this middle-aged body of mine. The chef said we need to get used to it now that we've hung up our power suits.

So this is my caterpillar transition in action, moving from media work to menial work and uprooting myself to a foreign land where a degree means temperature, not qualification, and the only spa I know now is a tula.


Get it?


Elementary class in progress. Everyday
we are exposed to learning from a
different chef. They all have interesting
backgrounds and stories to share of
their own culinary journey.
So much to learn from them. 

Cooking for Goliath continues with
this giant handheld blender.

I have to tell you about this super oven. My friend Eli and I keep talking about it!
It's a combi oven, with steam and convection. Such combination of dry
and moist cooking can do wonders for your food and bread,
especially baguettes, where at some point in the baking process,
the oven shoots out some water to moist the bread and makes it
much more aromatic.

It's also bluetooth-enabled -plug your thumb drive in there
and it reads your recipe and instructions. There's a built-in
water jet for easy cleaning.

For those who can't cook at all, it has an idiot-proof menu.
Click, fish, chicken or beef.  Click, bake, steam or grill.
15,000 Euros, anyone?
Tomorrow is kinda a big day for me. I'm the sous chef and it's our first real lesson in the kitchen and the debut of my Extra Virgin Chef Knife set. I have been advised to bring band aids! 

A Taste of Hell's Kitchen

A batonnet is 5mm x 5mm x 5cm
A julienne is 3mm x 3 mm x 5cm.
A fine julienne is 2mm x 2 mm x 5cm.

Small dice is a 5mm cube
Medium dice is a 12mm cube
Large dice is a 2cm cube

Getting your culinary art and cut right helps cook the food evenly and enhances visual appeal for the diner. I would probably need to cut about 100 kg of carrots and potatoes each before I can get mine close to these. Or as one of my friends say, You need to spend 10,000 hours on an activity before you can become an expert in it. We calculate that to be around 4 years if you want your Sundays off.

Today was a nervous day for me due to a combination of factors - it was my turn to be sous chef, it happened on our first day in the kitchen, and we have been forewarned about the Executive Chef in charge for the day - a Gordon Ramsay, no less. "Whatever he says to you, don't take it personally," another chef pre-warned us. I had all sorts of images conjured in my head about how the day will take place.

The class dynamics developed from the past week changed dramatically in the kitchen environment. Some who could not contribute in the classroom became stars at once - their basic knife skills were too apparent. They finished first, way before the deadline, their cuts were precise and clean, and they could go round helping others. I was sandwiched between 2 of these guys, so I just did a copycat following their steps. I think I did pretty ok for a first timer.

I had a close shave on one of my fingers, shaving off some nail surface and had to compose myself again. It didn't help that when I got home and googled "culinary cuts", it led me to a video made by a culinary student in the US detailing all her injuries and burns. A bit shaken after watching the video, I started to question if this is what I really want to do.

Meeting my 'Gordon Ramsay'
'Gordon Ramsay' put a lot of pressure on me for obvious and deliberate reasons. I suppose having entered the industry the hard way, he had earned his stripes and rights to bark, yell, humiliate and reduce his students to nothing, so they too can learn the hard way he did back in his old days of ducking flying plates from chefs just as abusive. That was how he became a top-notch chef and that is how he will be teaching us.

To tackle his pugnacious management style, I tried hard to strike a balance between being obedient without being a puppy, and being quick without acting up like a headless chicken. If he shouted, I responded with the same volume. "Sous chef!" he yelled at the top of his lungs to the extent the other class could hear him and were trembling, probably the very desired effect he was seeking. "Yes! Chef!!" I yelled back, keeping my voice firm. "You don't know how to wash a kitchen? You don't know? Go back to your corporate job!"

Thank you, Chef, I just might. But not today.

A Glimpse of Jewish Cuisine and Culture

This morning, my friend showed me his cooking books from home - they all look so very interesting so I've borrowed them for the weekend. You can't get any of these food in Singapore at all, nothing quite near as authentic. 'Gordon' said there is a market for a truly authentic Jewish/Lebanese food and cultural experience. Here are some pages for you, sorry for bad photography:

A sweet-smelling bread and the ultimate symbol of Shabbat.
Kindergarten kids knead and braid miniature challahs
on Friday mornings to welcome the Shabbat.

...where God gave the 10 Commandments.

Kosher also means the separation of meat and dairy.
I did not know of this before. It is a custom to wait for
up to 6 hours after eating meat before eating dishes that
contain milk. There goes our curry chicken.

Hanging out with Elli everyday has made me more and more curious about Israel. In the past week, I've read a chocolate recipe in Hebrew and today, I read a Hebrew proverb that says, roughly translated, Let food be your medicine. Don't let medicine become your food. Elli also told me about Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, and who believes doctors should be not just mere technicians of the physical body but also alchemists of our souls.  

I have not been to Israel since 2002 but now I so want to do a food tour there! Anybody interested to join me? 

Luan's 'perfect’ omelette
An egg-cellent recipe. I'll have to ketchup on all of them.
I made this in class today. Does it look good? Recipe and instructions at the bottom of this post.

A perfect omelette is pale in colour. Any sign of brown means it's overcooked and becomes a fried egg. Mine's a bit rough on the edges but the shape is good. Folding it into half when it was still runny was the most tricky part. 'Gordon' walked in even though he's not the Executive Chef today and the kitchen atmosphere changed.  Some people make sure their presence is felt when they enter a room. Gordon is undoubtedly one of them.  

He walked towards my station just as I was about to fold the omelette. "Faster. Faster. Faster," he deliberately breathed down my neck and whispered. Gordon's way of egging someone on. Somehow with Gordon, even a whisper is as intimidating as his holler. I made a flash decision to ignore him and focus on the task at hand. A split-second prayer and I did it! No breakage. The chef in charge was pleased with my omelette and a few chaps came round to look at it. Gordon stared at me expressionless. Silence from him is a compliment, I decided, and went about my way.

Days later, Gordon told the class that eggs coagulate at 63.5C. The window to fold it is a matter of seconds, that's why he was egging me on. He said I almost missed that window of opportunity. Also, omelette is one of those things that is easy to cook but difficult to master and an elementary culinary student will never be tested on.

We learned to "close down" the kitchen, checking all safety equipment and washing and sanitizing all utensils. I want to go buy a sanitizer for my home kitchen. It has live enzymes that eat up bacteria. Just spray and leave them overnight. No wipes needed. Sorry to have this in a food post but I wanted to show you the sanitizer we use in school.

Well, this ends my second week in at-Sunrice. From here on, we will be in the kitchen much more now that we have passed the Food Handling Safety and Hygiene module and are certified food handlers deemed "Fit for the Kit" as I call it. Did I tell you I scored full marks for my Food Safety exams

I also heard from the grapevine we may be making a foie gras dish too in the coming weeks. How exciting. Unlike most corporate executives, I am looking forward to Monday.

Meanwhile, here's the recipe.

Omelette Recipe
4 servings

1. 8 eggs (about 2-3 eggs per person)
2. 8 bacon strips, diced. (Or sliced mushroom or diced tomatoes for vegetarians. Or whatever you want to get rid of in your fridge.)
3. 120 ml milk (optional)
4. 30g chives, chopped. Leave a few long strands for garnishing
5. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat non-stick pan with oil, cook bacon till crisp (I left out the oil as there is already animal fats in the bacon)
2. Remove bacon to paper towel to drain, discard drippings
3. In a small bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Add milk, chives, salt, pepper and bacon
4. Add some oil and pour egg mixture into same pan. (Instead of oil, we used clarified butter, also called ghee in Asia. This is how we made it. I like it as it has a higher smoke point and doesn't burn easily.)
5. Cook over medium heat. As eggs set, about 40 seconds, lift edges, letting uncooked portion flow underneath. When eggs are set, about another 10 seconds, fold omelette into a semi-circle. It still looks runny and uncooked but this is when you have to remove it from the heat to maintain the pale colour. A few more seconds and it will turn brown, making it a fried egg instead. It is still cooking even when you remove it, so don't worry about it being raw.

See how Jamie Oliver does it and try it for your weekend breakfast.

Responsible Thawing

"What became of your lamb, Clarice?" Do you remember who uttered this line in the most eerie fashion you can imagine?

I just remembered I have a lamb leg in the freezer and this could be a nice weekend to make this for my son after his triathlon tomorrow. I apply everything I've learned this week on Food Safety. This is the best way to close the theory-practice gap.

 A poster in the Main Kitchen in school shows the order of things you should
organise in your fridge.
My son loves lamb to eat. He will appreciate this surprise.
Good quality meat and good value for money, courtesy of Ben's Food
I thaw it in the fridge and not at room temperature. My fridge is at 4 degrees Celsius, outside the TDZ
(Temperature Danger Zone). The bacteria cannot multiply in this environment. Placing it at the
lowest shelf also minimises possible cross-contamination.  
I also use a tray to catch any liquid that may drip out of the raw meat even if it is double-packed.

And now, to look for some good leg lamb recipes to try out. I am thinking a slow cooker stew. Nobody is born a good cook. Everyone learns by doing. Happy weekend, everyone.

Exam Revision for a Culinary Student looks like this...
4 different cuts here - medium dice, brunoise, julienne, batonnet
This is CMI-Julienne. CMI as you know is teenage lingo for cannot-make-it!
A julienne is supposedly 3mm x 3mm x 5cm
CMI medium dice 12mm cube
Brunoise, pronounced "broon-wahz" (In French, pronounce the s if it is
followed by an e, as I've been told), is a 3mm cube.
And the reason why we need to do this? Well, for one, it's not called culinary arts for nothing. Food cook more evenly when it's cut to same measurement and fashion and affects taste for the discerning tongue. It is also supposedly more visually appealing thus further whetting the diner's appetite.

An Older Student Has Incredible Advantages

I tried to suck up to the chefs today and asked, Chef, it's Wednesday today. Why is there no Word of the Week? Thought I could for the first time in my student life try to impress my teacher. God is a God of second chances. We do get our second chances in life, people! I've never been a high performer in school, always almost failing or almost passing. I know very very few Chinese songs in my life but there is one in particular where I remember the lyrics because they speak so much to me as a student. It says,


Roughly and crudely translated - Always knowing how little homework you have done only at bedtime and always knowing all the topics to study only when exams are over!

But now at middle age, my psyche as an overaged student is very different. I am frighteningly focused, my hormones are more than stable, my experience and confidence give me a good headstart, I've met my fair share of big, bad wolves dressed in sheep's clothings, I know what I want in life, and I can handle any red-tape and manage egos as big as the industrial combi ovens.

Chef was pleased and looked impressed with my question. Yes, we meant to but thought we'd keep it for tomorrow because of exams this week. But since you asked, I'll tell you first. The word is "Curdle". We'll share this with the class tomorrow.

Did I just score some brownie points? Shall I become the annoying teacher's pet who goes to the teachers after school to offer help rather than ask for help, or make the school website my home page, and study all night so I won't let my chefs down?

Repulsive thoughts, tsk tsk.

Kitchen Politics

We're at the end of our third week in culinary school and the politics have now started to creep into the classroom and kitchen. Somebody is not happy with somebody over something somebody else commented. A formal complaint has also been filed against 'Gordon' and the school will have to deal with it. The protaganist is going round the class to find out who's on his side vs Gordon.

I was roughly aware of what had been going on the past week and had a vague sense of some politics brewing but did not bother to fully understand the entire situation. My mind is filled with how long a julienne is and how to pronounce brunoise and being able to name the different parts of a chef's knife. I am also mentally rehearsing some of the dishes we have been taught but I haven't had a chance to practise because of exams this week. Oh, also, I'm deciding between being an annoying top student or a silent achiever.

So Mr Protaganist comes up to me to suss me out on whose side I'm on. He does not know I have neither the interest, inclination, talent nor time for politics, gossip or complaints of any form, shape or size. I don't give any approving nod so as not to urge him on, neither do I disagree so he does not need to persuade. At the end of his pitch, I smiled as sweetly as I possibly can at this age, whispered a quick prayer for him and went my way, remembering why I left the corporate life behind.

You Have No Idea How Important This Garlic Is To Me.

We had 'Gordon' all to ourselves all morning. Argh! I googled him and a few chefs' names last night and found out they all have strong credentials, most of them climbed up the hard way through sheer determination, perseverance and an ability to park their egos aside for a few years to make way for an insatiable appetite to learn. They all learned from world renowned chefs from mostly Europe and despite their own obvious language handicap, managed to overcome communications and cultural barriers to experience a meaningful and long lasting exchange that would change the course of their lives and careers. In this journey to attain success, many have suffered abuses and harrassments of many forms but are now enjoying the fruits of those years of hard labour.

I did some basic research on general chef salaries - they are not very high for the hours they put in and the skills required. The justification always seems to be this - You have to be in this because you're passionate about culinary. Nobody is here for the money. Doesn't quite fully explain...

How are chefs perceived?
I asked them about the general perception of chefs in the fraternity and in the community and heard some interesting anecdotes ranging from a prospective mother-in-law who disapproved of their relationship thinking a chef could not properly provide for her daughter to dignitaries who are so wowed by the food they eat that they ask to see and speak with the chef personally and go on to hire them as their personal private chefs. Some private chefs command full influence on what the household should be eating and are highly regarded and respected for their skills and knowledge. The ones who have made a name for themselves are hand-picked to open kitchens of top resorts in the world and they live this nomadic life of always being in the hottest spots to cook for the rich and famous, and the line between the kitchen and dining room blurr as they also earn a seat at the table with the top honchos of the world.

'Gordon' went on for hours about his own journey. I was beginning to suspect perhaps he was the creator of, as the army puts it. I got a little bored and started writing on my notepad the many recipes I still want to try but haven't gotten to them...cinnamon rolls, strawberry cake, walnut butter cream, savoury muffins, ...

What is important in your profession and your cause?
Suddenly Gordon said something that caught my attention. "You have no idea how important that garlic is to me!" I thought that was a pretty impressive line for Gordon. I could relate to it. As a communications professional for the past 20 years, you have no idea how important that one word is to me!

To a struggling student, you have no idea how important one passing mark is.
To a desperate couple, you have no idea how important one good embryo is.
To a 100-metre sprinter, you have no idea how important that one second is.
To the Somalians, you have no idea how sweet one water drop tastes.

What is important in your profession and your cause?

I Do Not Weep. I Sharpen My Knives.

One of the things we learned in culinary school is taking good care of our knives including keeping it sharp  at all times. Again, this is another topic that you can go deep into if it's your area of interest. Knife-sharpening is a somewhat lost trade now and the few highly skilled knivesmen are hard to find. Technology has also replaced many of them. As it's not exactly my cup of tea either, I have not researched much on this topic. What I'm posting here is the bare basic - simple and practical for home application, nothing too pro.

The recommended angle between the stone and the knife is 45 degrees as shown in this picture. The knife blade tilts at 20 degrees. Wet the surface area and slide from top to bottom of knife AND stone. If, through time, your stone starts to wear off and sinks in the middle, it means the sharpening technique is wrong.

You can get this at Sia Huat ( at Temple Street in Chinatown, Singapore for about $40. They have a strict exchange policy so make sure of your purchase before you leave the shop and keep your receipt just in case.
(Do I sound like your mom?)
"Global" is one good brand of knife. This one here is what is called a full tang, ie, the entire knife is one piece of steel from tip to handle. Not cheap but an excellent kitchen tool to have.
I have a paring knife to match the Global Chef Knife as well. An excellent pare, I mean, pair.
I sliced these tomatoes straight after the sharpening. Much easier and do you know it's safer to use a very sharp knife than a blunt one? If your knife is not sharp, you can't cut properly and may exert pressure in the wrong places and risk cutting yourself.
I asked the chef about other sharpening methods remembering how my mom used to slide her knife using the bottom of her ceramic bowl. This method, and also using a sharpening rod, is good for the short term, one or 2-time use. For the longer term, it's still best to use the stone.

Chef says there is only one place left in Singapore he knows that still sharpens your knife for you. Next to OG in Chinatown, there is a food center. Go up to the second floor through the stairs between the fruit stalls. Turn left. An old man there has passed his trade on to his daughter who now runs the business but she uses the sharpening machine instead. I'm giving this information because some of you asked me about it.

Well, whether you personally use the knives at home or someone else does, do stay sharp and keep safe and may your knives bless you and serve you well.

Weekend Homework
Easy and nutritious prawn mango salad.
My weekend homework to practise for assessment this week. This, by the way, is not an example of a good plating. Food should take up only 60% of the plate leaving the remaining 40% for impact and appeal.
In this case, I should have used a bigger plate.
This recipe is so easy everyone should do this at home. Or pay $14 at Swensen's as one of my readers told me!
Since Chef said my greens were a tad flat, I've tried to prop it up here with the cut mangos.
I modified the salad dressing as I didn't quite like the one given in the recipe. 
Portioning as a general guideline is 25g greens per person.

From Cutting Throat to Cutting Lime, Thai-Style

We worked in the Main Kitchen today, meaning we cooked to feed the 300 students in the academy. Yes, lunch is provided for diploma students. It's a mass production and assembly line style amongst the 15 of us under the supervision of a Thai chef. Two hours later, we produced a Thai salad with a rich Chinese broth served with steamed white rice for 300 covers.

One of the things I learned from Chef today is how to cut lime Thai-style for maximum juice.
Always roll lime on the table top adding some pressure before you slice them to loosen the pulp and release the juices inside.
Eastern style of cutting a lime: vertically from top to bottom
Western style of cutting: horizontally across
Thai-style: cut from the top just off the middle
Second cut is 45 degrees from the first cut
Third and final cut results in forming a triangle at the top and base as you can see from this picture.
This method of cutting maximises the juice without getting bitterness from the skin which can affect your food taste.
And I always thought lime looked this way because the Thais use a different type of lime! Tsk tsk.

Another transition for me from previously working in a cut-throat industry to now cutting lime, Thai-style.

Practical Exams - Prawn Mango Salad
My submission for today's practical exams. This earned me 28 marks out of a possible total of 30.
How's that for an extra virgin chef?
Why not 30? I cheekily asked Chef. Bad move, since he started pointing out all the mistakes and for a moment there, I thought he might just deduct more points. So, here are the good and bad in this submission.

1. Portion of greens is good. About 25g is recommended portion for one share. 
2. There are 8 prawns here, about 120g before de-shelling. Good for one.
3. Mangos are cut and arranged such that you can see sharp pointed edges. To achieve this, I brought a small plastic knife today. I placed a slice of mango - cut lengthwise - on the plate before cutting. Then with my plastic knife and the mango already on the plate, I sliced it at an angle, then slightly separate the individual pieces. What's good about this is I don't have to transfer the mango after cutting it, as that will just mess up the arrangement as I see on other plates.
4. Leaves are facing upwards invitingly, and they produce a good height.
5. Overall good with 40% clear space on plate.

1. Avocado is sliced too big. Should be about 2/3 of this.
2. Prawn surface is kinda rough after peeling. This is a reflection of bad technique during blanching. Effective blanching is at around 63-71 degrees Celsius where prawns can be de-shelled easily. 

Are you enjoying all these superfluous technicalities? Just eat la! 

Oh, and the recipe is here again for those who want to try this. It's easy and light, healthy and delish. I love it when I can actually taste the coriander roots. Yum!

What's the difference?

What's the difference between…

1. A raisin and a sultana?
A raisin comes from red grapes, a sultana from white. Answer contributed by a friend living in NZ through this site. Thanks, Tracie!

2. Bain marie and double-boil?

3. Blanching, boiling and poaching?

4. A cupcake and a muffin?
Quick and dirty answer to this is cupcakes have frosting. Scientific answer available on this site. Answer contributed by Annonymous

5. Frosting and icing?

6. Single cream, double cream and whipping cream?

7. Instant yeast and active yeast?

8. 3g and 4g?

9. Chopped and minced?

10. Chiller and fridge?

11. Squid, sotong, cuttlefish and 'jiu-he'? Question contributed by my friend TS.

12. Baking powder and baking soda? Question contributed by my friend Evelyn.

Contributions most welcome, whether you have more Qs to add or some As to enlighten us with.

A Crash Course Along the Corridor

I walked into this scene on my way out today.
Chef told me the diploma students are preparing a presentation on Lamb and I am welcome to stick around and listen.
A whole leg air-flown in from southern Spain. This has been cured for some 20 months now.
I didn't catch everything they said.. something about prime cuts and subprime cuts akin to continents and countries. 
And which part is good for stew and which is good for grill...
I felt overwhelmed at how much there is to learn about meat!
(Should I take up the diploma course?)
I think I shall just simply eat them.
This one I covet! Rack of lamb with bread crumbs and herbs. Drool, drool.

Check Out We Cooked in Class Today
We learn about conduction, convection and induction cooking today and
apply dry cooking methods through shallow fry and deep fry.

Here, we have boneless chicken breast meat tenderised by soaking in milk
and tarragon for at least an hour (3 if you have time). Thereafter, coat it
with seasoned flour (salt, pepper and mixed herbs in flour)

The vegetables are sauteed with herbed butter already mixed with
anchovy and capers, otherwise known as high class butter.

Breaded, deep-fried dory. This colour shows the oil was too hot when the
fillet went in. Temperature should be between 175-190C.

This golden brown is a sign of good heat control.

Roasted potatoes with mixed herbs. Yum.

Love this picture of colour, health and aroma.

Just the kind of food to feed extended families with
lots of children! May not look particularly healthy
but we used almost half a kilo of herbs here.

Overall, I'm more open to the idea of deep fry now.
If done properly, it should not be greasy - on the food
as well as in the kitchen. By the way, we used
clarified butter (Chef said, Very expensive ah!) and it
gives off a different flavour to the discerning palate.

See how it looks when I practise at home on my own.

Cooking Asian food using Western Method

I hope I didn't shock you too much with this opening photo. Look what we did to the poor tilapia. After cleaning it out, we stuffed coriander and bay leaves into the fish. Then, we shoved 2 long lemongrass down its throat. Literally. You can guess by now we are doing Thai cuisine. Then we poured some light soy sauce and oyster sauce through its open mouth. Sorry, fish. We used coarse rock salt on its skin - scales on - and put it to grill for 30 minutes. We are learning and applying dry cooking methods on Asian food.

We learned how to check for freshness - the fish must have clear eyes, not cloudy ones; its skin must be firm and slimy, pink gills and there must of course be no stale smell. 

Mine's the middle one. Papa fish, mama fish and baby fish.
This is how it looks out of the grill oven. 
All 15 of us grabbed our forks and went at the 6 tilapias we were given. It was savage and wild.  We peeled off the layer of skin easily to remove all that salt. The meat was soft, juicy, tender. 
I didn't linger around the fish for too long. I had 2 other distractions - chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and Thai pineapple fried rice. Thai Chef demonstrated how to wrap a 4-cm piece of marinated chicken using pandan leaves. It sounded and looked difficult to me, but an hour later, I got the hang of it and at one stage seriously thought, maybe, just maybe, I used to be a Thai village girl married to a snake charmer. Our pet was an elephant.

Steamed version
Deep fried version
I'm not a deep-fried person but I found this version tastier, especially with the caramelisation of the dark soya sauce. And maybe because my culinary senses are stimulated and I am more open to the idea of fried food after yesterday.

Oh, I also made this Thai pineapple fried rice (recipe here) all by myself (can you see my smug look). I was very pleased with this one too. Like,.. seriously pleased in a deep way. Got it?

Thai pineapple fried rice
So, I was heading out together with Eli, so pleased with myself and with every dish I learned to make today, and thinking what a great day in the kitchen, and I would die happy now...when I walked into this!

The pastry class was making Jewish Callah bread! I grabbed Eli and said, You have to go in there and tell them about Callah. What do they know?? So, we went in and chatted with the pastry chef. Callah bread is baked every Friday in Israel in time for Sabbath and a day of cooking, feasting, singing and dancing all through Saturday. To keep strictly kosher, there should be no milk or butter in them when eating on Fridays.

Jewish Callah bread
Chef gave me a piece - it was warm to touch and very soft on the palate.
Just a really great day today. I whispered thanks to God above - the true Bread - then rushed out to meet my dear sister for lunch. Food again!

Eating My Homework - Thai Pineapple Fried Rice

Here's the recipe for Thai pineapple fried rice (serves 4):

5 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 small onion, chopped finely
150g chicken thighs, deboned and skinless, cut into 1cm cubes
3 cups steamed rice, chilled (overnight rice preferred. Cold rice is less sticky to the wok.)
2 tsp tumeric powder (healthy way to colour the rice)
50g raisins
50g roasted cashew nuts (mine went soft on me today, so make sure you keep it air tight after roasting and cooling)
1 Tbs light soya sauce
1 tsp white pepper
100g pineapple cut into 1/2 cm cubes
2 tsp fish sauce
4 sprigs coriander leaves chopped roughly
1 sprig for garnishing
Pork floss and pineapple shell for serving (optional)

1. Heat up wok and add oil. Heat oil in wok over medium heat. Saute the chopped onions until fragrant and light brown.
2. Add in chicken, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, then saute till chicken is well cooked.
3. Add rice and tumeric powder, reduce to low heat, stir until well mixed. Add cashew nuts and raisins.
4. Season with light soya sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir gently until well mixed.
5. Add pineapples, increase to high heat, stir-fry quickly. Add fish sauce and coriander leaves, stir well for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
6. Transfer to serving plate. Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve hot.

Tip: Use non-stick pan if possible. If you don't have a non-stick, here's what you can do - after heating oil, scramble an egg - this will protect the rice from sticking.

Verdict: Husband and a friend were neutral to it but I personally enjoyed eating it so much I had my whole week of carbo load from just today!

Dry Cooking On Singapore Cuisine

Lesson on dry cooking method continues today with application to local cuisine. Interesting to get a professional chef's perspectives on where to get the best hokkien mee, char kway teow and nasi lemak, and his views on what make these good. Also heard some true horror stories of the things hawkers do to make their food look good, taste good and last longer, strengthening my own resolve to do more home cooking. Mine couldn't come close to the taste but I know what I'm eating and it's all good.

We grilled chicken satay and made sambal belachan grilled stingray, and chef showed us how he makes goreng pisang (fried bananas). Here are some pictures to share with you. Let me know if you're interested in any of these recipes - too much to type out.

Learned to make our own sambal belachan.

Is this lime or calamansi? What's the difference?

Served with onions
Using lemongrass stick to grease satay

Some fats needed in satay so it won't dry out.
It was yummy!
Final dish was goreng pisang (fried banana fritters). 
This was delicious too and reminded me of my kindergarten days when I
used to love them. But here's where I heard the most horror stories too of
what hawkers do to keep these pisang crisp.


I was excited to hear we'd be working on the tandoor today. It's a deep clay urn with burning charcoal at the bottom and can hit a temperature of 500C. We're using a modern tandoor today, it has a gas stove at the bottom! Chef had an effective way to convey that safety was of utmost priority by showing us his tandoor scar. 

The full name of the dish is called Tandoori Murgh Tikka (Tandoor Roasted Marinated Chicken). Tikka means long marinate. Origin of dish is North India. We must have used something like 15 different spices. Garam Masala - an ingredient I see alot in Indian recipes - is a standard base for tikka. It is made up of bay leaves, cinnamon, cardammon and cloves or BCCC as Chef calls it. Another one he said was 3G and he didn't mean telco. 3G is ginger, garlic and green chilli. This means massive mise en place for Indian cuisines. But I like to do mise en place because it makes me feel well prepared.

We used about 15 different spices!
We used a giant skewer that went all the way into the tandoor. 
At a temperature of 500C, it took only a few minutes before we saw the chicken darkening.
Skewers removed when chicken is half-cooked for basting with butter
before we put them back into the tandoor again for a bit of crispy charring.
There should be some black charring on tips of chicken pieces. Great with the mango chutney we blended.
My group also prepared mise en place for Dal Makhani (Lentils stewed with butter and tomato) and Pudina Chutney (Mint and Yoghurt sauce).  Another group prepared Naan (Tandoor bread with plain flour) and Roti (Tandoor bread with whole wheat flour). Recipes available if you seriously intend to try these dishes. Do leave a comment on this post if interested. 

Some things are taught. Some things are caught. You have to watch an Indian knead his dough.
How did he get them so round??! I did one - you can easily tell which one!
I slapped my roti dough onto the wall of the tandoor and it stuck. Some others fell when people become afraid of the heat. Julia Child says, Be fearless!
After just a minute, remove with 2 long skewers.
Authentic Indian roti
This is a big pot of lentil goodness - red kidney beans, black beans with 15 or more different spices. I helped myself to a whole ladle!
I love North Indian food. Incredible India!

Achieving My “Wok-hei”

Can you sense my "wok-hei"? Chef said I achieved some wok-hei but I cooked the rice too long and it's a bit too dry.

Anyone can do a Yangzhou Chao Fan (Chinese Fried Rice), right? Wrong. Not if you want to get it perfect anyway. Just like the omelette, this is one of those easy-to-make, hard-to-master dishes. 

A perfect Chao Fan must have the following:

1. Rice is moist but do not stick. 
2. Each grain is a whole grain, not broken, and not lumped together.
3. You can taste the white pepper.
4. It must have "wok-hei"!

Literally translated from Cantonese, it means "the wok's air", or as I personally like to express as - the breath of the wok. Hei in Hebrew means air or smell and in the bible, it means the breath of God. God breathed "Hei" into Abram and his name became Abraham. 

Wok-hei is the flavour, taste and essence imparted by a hot wok on food during stir-frying. It is particularly important for Chinese dishes requiring high heat for fragrances such as Char Kway Teow (fried rice sticks) and fried rice.

To impart wok hei, the food must be cooked in a wok over a high flame while being stirred and tossed quickly. For this reason it requires cooking over an open flame. In practical terms, the flavour imparted by chemical compounds results from caramelization and the partial combustion of oil that come from charring and searing of the food at very high heat in excess of 200 °C (392 °F). Aside from flavour, there is also the texture of the cooked items and smell involved that describes wok hei. (source: Wikipedia)

So the key words here are "high flame" and "toss quickly". Chef from Hunan gave us a demo and I tried to catch it on pictures here but she was too fast for me. See these for what they're worth.

This woman is incredibly strong, to lift and toss that giant of a wok, and with her weaker hand!
Her rice seemed to be in the air more than on the wok. Frequent flyer rice!
She even taught us how to fold the piece of cloth in her hand for maximum protection and leverage. 
It was such a treat to watch her. The ooos and aahhs stopped when she said, OK, now your turn. Gulp!
This is Chef's wok-hei fried rice. 

Loose grains each standing on its own.

To achieve wok-hei fried rice, here are the top tips from Chef:
1. Use overnight rice. Chill it. Cold rice is less sticky.
2. Boil rice in pot rather than use a rice cooker. Rice from rice cooker tends to be wet at the bottom and dry at the top.
3. Ensure rice is gently loosened before going into the wok. "Don't kill the rice" is what she kept yelling, meaning, don't use a sharp ladle to cut the grains. That will release the starch and make them sticky. Instead, use back of ladle to press gently.
4. Wok must be hot before the oil goes in, and oil must be hot before the rice goes in.
5. Toss quickly and fully. 

I want to run off to Chen Fu Ji to taste their $25 fried rice now!

A die-die-must-try recipe: Sambal Roasted Chicken
Sambal Roasted Chicken: already half-cooked using dry, direct heat and now
second half to be roasted in the oven for half an hour at 180C. 

Lesson on dry heat continues today with Malay cuisine. Today's 2 dishes are Sambal Roasted Chicken and Sambal Ayam Bunga Kantan (Spicy Chicken with Ginger Flower). I wasn't super thrilled hearing the recipe and dragged my feet on preparing the mise en place but when the sambal (spice paste) started simmering in the pot, it had my full, undivided attention. The aroma filled the entire school! Our class of 15 agreed unanimously this is by far the best recipe we have tasted since joining this course, and I strongly recommend for you to try it. It's worth your every calorie count.

Here are pictures of most of the ingredients we used.

Galangal, also known as blue ginger or lengkuas.
It's stronger than ginger.
Candlenut or Buah Keras. Looks like walnut. It has no
flavour and is used as a natural thickening agent.
Kaffir lime leaves, a common ingredient in Thai cuisine too.
Dried chilli. Soak in water and boil to soften.
Fresh red chilli
Belachan or dried shrimp paste. Very salty, 1 tsp for every 300g chicken
Coriander seeds. We pounded this on the mortar to get coriander powder 
Gula melaka or palm sugar, ie, hard sugar from coconut palm.
Good ingredient to add if your paste is too salty.
Ginger flower or bunga kantan, also used in local rojak and laksa.
Slice diagonally and thinly. 
Turmeric powder
Top tips for a good spice paste in Malay cuisine from Chef:
1. You must have enough oil to cover all the paste when in pot. This is important in Malay cuisine.
2. Heat must be medium to low so as not to burn the paste.
3. Don't stir too often. Stir and let rest. The paste needs time to simmer and release the oil for aroma and taste.
4. Every part of the paste must be sizzling.

Paste is all covered in oil. 
There is a shine in the paste, meaning, oil is released. A good sign.
Don't be afraid to see oil. It gives out good aroma and flavour. Fat gives flavour, Julia Child.
I abandoned all notions of healthy eating for this culinary adventure.
It's worth every calorie count.
When half done, we popped it in the oven to roast for another half hour at 180C. It should look somewhat charred and "dried up" after 30 minutes.
It was supposed to be food tasting but there was nothing left after 10 minutes. The class loved this dish!
Moist inside.
I tried to plate it while others were attacking the food savagely.
On the left is sambal roast chicken, right is spicy chicken with ginger flower.

So finally, here's the recipe for both dishes. Perfect for Hari Raya next week. Ingredients are similar but the taste is distinctly different and yummilicious!

A. Sambal Roast Chicken
One whole chicken cut into half. Use kampung or free range chicken.
2 inches galangal slices
4 lime leaves
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
200ml coconut milk (or santan)
3-6 Tbsp cooking oil
1 Tbsp gula melaka or palm sugar
1.5tsp salt

Spice paste:
8 dried red chillies, seeded and soaked to soften
6 shallots
3 garlic cloves
1.5 inch ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin 

1. Roast coriander and cumin to release oil and aroma.
2. Pound all spice paste ingredients together to a fine paste. Set aside.
3. Heat oil in pan. Stir-fry spice paste until fragrant, about 10 min. 
4. Add coconut milk, lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, salt and gula melaka. Stir well. Add chicken and cook for about 15-20 min over simmering heat, turning a few times until it's half-cooked. (Skin will blister and separate from meat).
5. Preheat oven to 180C
6. Transfer chicken to a roasting pan and pour sauce over it.
7. Roast for 30 min or until browned. Ready to serve.

B. Spicy Chicken with Ginger Flower (Sambal Ayam Bunga Kantan)

600g boneless chicken legs cut into bite-sized pieces
10 shallots thinly sliced
8 dried chillis soaked in warm water, seeded
6 fresh chilli
8 garlic cloves
5 candlenut
5 lime leaves
4-6 Tbsp cooking oil
2 Tbsp water
2 tsp belachan (dried shrimp paste)
2 stalks ginger flower, thinly sliced
0.5 tsp turmeric powder
0.5 cup tamarind juice (or assam) - for colour, taste and texture. 
0.5 tsp coriander powder

1. Pound candlenut, chilli, shallots, red onion and shrimp paste in a mortar to fine paste
2. Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat, stirring regularly so as not to burn, and until fragrant. Add tamarind juice to fluff up the paste
3. Add chicken and lime leaves. Continue cooking, stirring regularly until chicken is done, about 10 mins. Season with salt and sugar to taste. Lastly, add the sliced ginger flower, cook for 5 mins.
4. Transfer to serving plate. Serve with steamed rice.

Enjoy and Selamat Hari Raya Adilfitri!

What Practical Exams Look Like for the Diploma Students

Saying sorry to Chef
Since I wrote about Kitchen Politics a couple of weeks ago, there have been a few more dramas in the kitchen to entertain me when I have enough of cooking and cleaning. One major outburst of loud wails and tears, one woman-to-woman claw-to-claw catfight, a faithfully latecomer to ruffle Chef's feathers and the daily gossips to spice the morning breaks.

Today Chef got so mad with the class he walked out on us. Stubborn refusal to take and follow simple instructions, insisting on doing things our own way, not adhering to safety standards and endangering others in the process - these were some of the things that irked him. In the session this morning, he spelt out very clearly, Prepare the mise en place, don't cut anything, don't pound anything. I will teach you every step. When he came back 5 minutes later, there was serious mortar pounding going on. He blew his top and decided we were smart enough to do our own cooking and he walked out, leaving 15 astonished kindergarten kids to ourselves. Everyone froze and all activities stopped abruptly.

I broke the silence and suggested to Sous Chef of the day and her assistant, the Sanitarium, to apologise on behalf of the class and ask him to come back to the kitchen. They were hesitant, so I decided to do it, and they followed after me. I chased Chef down the corridor and humbly apologised to him. Sous Chef adopted a begging approach - Please la, Chef, please, please - which I did not want to be a part of.

I repeated my apology for the unacceptable behaviour of the class. I could not promise him it wouldn't happen again. It's hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Because some of them are experienced in the kitchen, they are pretty set on how things are done. I guess it is easier for virgin chefs like me as I have nothing to unlearn. I can't cut an ingredient my own way 'cos I don't know how to cut it in the first place, LOL.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the day did eventually turn out well as you can see in my earlier posting. The sambal roast chicken was extremely succulent!

The beauty of this episode is it generated many other classroom stories from my children when I shared it with them. You ask them, How's your day in school? And you get a nonchalant, Ya, ok. But hearing my story sparked off a chain of contributions, with everyone clamouring to get more air time to talk. Make time for your children, and watch them make your day.

Oral and Practical Exams: Dry Heat Cooking
My submission for practical exams on golden brown deep-fried dory fillet.
After passing the colour test, my heart stopped for a second as Chef cut
open to check the doneness. It's an immediate fail if the fish is uncooked.

Chef took a bite, pondered, squeezed some lemon juice over it and took
another bite. He asked me to taste it, and went on to ask what I thought.
(Shouldn't he be telling me??) I said, I would pay to eat this.
Honestly, that was what I felt! He smiled and said, You're done
here. Clean up your station and go.
We were divided into 2 groups, the first group of 8 went into the kitchen for practical while the second group of 7 was sent to the classroom for an oral exam on the theory of dry heat cooking. I was in the first group. We were given an hour to produce a golden brown deep-fried dory fillet. We had a chance to practise this last week - see earlier post. This I think is the equivalent of giving an intern 3 luxurious hours to research on a piece of work to produce a good press release. I decided to take my time and not rush since any mistakes would be costly and any damaged ingredients are not replaceable.

Chef is expecting to see a few things from us at every stage and I have this mental checklist in my head as I go along:

1. How we flour, eggwash and bread the fillet. Tap off excess flour so you don't get a heavy batter. Flour it enough to absorb moisture from fish so there is no water and no splatter when you dip it into the oil. Flouring correctly also gives you a nice crisp texture when you bite into it. In the photo above, Chef checks for thickness of my flouring. Can't really tell what he thinks of it!

2. Colour - golden brown is a sign of good heat control. The oil temperature should be between 175-190C. You can use a thermometer to be sure but I have also been taught to observe movements in the oil and small bubbles (or lazy bubbles as Chef calls it). One way to test if the oil is ready is to throw a few bits of bread crumbs in there. If it sizzles, it's ready. If it just floats there like nothing is happening, the oil is not ready. If you see smoke, the oil is too hot and you should reduce the heat and wait a while before putting in the fish. To reduce heat, you can add oil, or remove pot from fire or turn off fire. Then start the process again, looking for lazy bubbles. If the oil is too hot, you will get dark brown fillet immediately while the inside is still not cooked.

Having this knowledge has helped me overcome my fear of working on open fire with so much oil, and gives me a better sense of control. I'm a woman, I always need my sense of control! I also have a better appreciation and higher acceptance level of deep-fried now. If done properly, they are not soggy and greasy and disgusting!

So, overall, I'm delighted that I'm really learning. With each session, I gain more confidence in the kitchen and I'm happy I've made peace with an old enemy called deep-fry. The ultimate beneficiaries of this new skill, I suspect, are the kids. They can now have home-made KFC without me nagging at the ill-effects.

Now for the oral exams, here are some of the questions I can recall on dry heat cooking methods. Can you answer them?

1. What is the purpose of pre-heating an oven?

2. Name 3 types of heat transfers.

3. What is the purpose of basting?

4. What is the purpose of flouring?

5. What is smoking point?

6. Why is it you should not carve meat that's just out of the oven?

7. Why should you deep-fry food in small batches rather than all at once?

"101 Things I Learned in Culinary School”
My husband picked this book up from a local bookstore about a year ago.
12 months ago, I had zero interest in cooking, and today, all I can think of is
about ingredients and recipes. How strange life takes its turns.
Interesting, useful and practical tips presented in simple one-pagers.
And the difference between sauteing and stir-fry again is?
I totally believe this now, and I think it applies to canned tomatoes too!
Do you like this? We are more connected in this universe than we think.

And Now, The End is Near… 
and so I face, the final curtain....

Next week today will be our last day in this culinary kindergarten course. We will also be having oral exams and practical exams on the last day. I dread having to make a decision on what I will do next. I have many options - bum around in the guise of being a housewife and cooking for the family, continue in culinary school in kindergarten pastry or diploma in culinary or pastry, go look for work in a big professional kitchen ten times the size of the restaurant I interned in, find a restaurant internship overseas through a personal contact, sign up with a different culinary school, start my own business (in ??), or go back to a corporate role.

That was in order of preference!

Many ideas brewing but no clear direction as yet. God is the giver of creative ideas.

Look At What the Pastry Students Did Today!

I always like to sniff and snoop around after class and today is no exception. I'm usually rewarded with some interesting sights for which I can practise more food photography. The last time I saw the students bake Callah bread - I managed to get the recipe from Chef and I'm going to try it and let you know how it goes.

But look at my catch today!! These pastry classes are damn happening!

Oral Exams On Moist Heat Cooking

How many of these can you answer?

1. Name 3 types of moist heat cooking.

2. Name 2 types of cooking that combine dry heat and moist heat.

3. Name 3 differences between braising and stewing.

4. What is the difference between poaching, simmering and boiling?

5. Name 2 advantages of moist heat cooking.

6. Name 2 disadvantages of moist heat cooking.

7. How do you prevent nutrients from being lost in the liquid in moist heat cooking?

8. What are the characteristics of a steamed fish?

9. What are the considerations for selecting cooking liquid for moist heat?

10. What is a sous vide?

Practical Exams: Steamed Chicken Leg & Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms and Chestnut
Steamed chicken leg. Low interest = no practise = panic!
No one told me this was to be included in the practical as well! Alamak!
I walked into school this morning feeling somewhat anxious about the practical exams as I had not really practised on the dish. Even though today was the last day of school, I could not quite feel relaxed yet because of the exams. To make matters worse, I realised an hour before that we would be tested on two dishes, not one! How could I have missed that? Super blurr!

The first dish is Chinese steamed chicken leg which I have some fair idea of the process but was concerned about how to debone it. At midnight last night, I googled "How to debone a chicken thigh". I saw a video on Youtube of a youth showing off his deboning skills to his hostel mates so I figured it can't be all that difficult, and all I needed was more confidence.

The second dish - stewed chicken in mushroom and chestnut - was not one of my favourites during class and so I didn't pay too close attention to it. In fact, I didn't even blog about it so you can tell it figured very low on my personal radar. So naturally, my heart skipped when I realised this was also to be included in the exams! In complete honesty, I thought about whether I should pretend to suddenly fall sick, LOL. I think I understand better what my children go through everyday in school now. 

Being in kindergarten, we were given 1.5 hours to complete these 2 dishes. I had to whisper a quick prayer for myself and told God that I would place my confidence in His goodness and grace and not on my limited skills.

At 12.15pm sharp, when the deadline was up, I presented both dishes to Chef. With a sense of pride in my work! Many things happened for me in those 90 minutes. I surpassed myself in deboning a chicken thigh, I had a better appreciation of the stew dish, and I learned to taste and adjust my seasoning as I went along in the dish preparation. There was a connection with the sauces and a new respect for each ingredient, never experienced before. Chef's previous comment on "You have no idea what a garlic means to me" came to mind. 

Chef checked on the colour and texture of my simmered sauce, then he cut a small piece of chicken and placed in his mouth and chewed slowly. With eyebrows raised, he smacked his lips and asked me what I thought as he ran his spoon under running water. I confidently said I personally liked the taste which was true. He said, "Some people may find your stew too dry especially if you don't serve it immediately. But I personally like stew this way. In fact, I like it alot. The flavour is well balanced. The sauce is not starchy. Colour is just right. Good work."

On the steamed leg, he almost choked, LOL. He said the ginger was too overpowering and advised me to cut down on that next time. He had to reach for some water immediately! Everything else was good, the gelatin was flavorful, the chicken was properly blanched, steamed, deboned, chopped and presented. So I scored 28/30 marks for practical, and for yesterday's oral, I scored full marks. 

One actually learns even while taking exams!

Culinary Kindergarten Graduation

Today, I graduated from Culinary Kindergarten. There was a strong sense of nostalgia in the room since we had spent so much time together for the past 2 months. I was asked to represent my class to give a little farewell speech. Surprisingly for a critic like me, I was amazingly complimentary of the school, the course and the overall experience.

I created a little photo slideshow to reflect on our time here in at-Sunrice Global Chef Academy and to have a collection of the main dishes we learned to make. The school arranged for this to be shown at the farewell ceremony and it was well received.

Question now for me personally is, what next.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow


  1. Useful information ..I am very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us this useful information. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post. San Diego Culinary School

    1. Thanks, Jon! I'm glad to hear that. Do let me know if you should need more.


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