Changing career can be a tricky thing. There's always tons of risks involved and you're often left wondering whether you've made the right choice. But following your dream, however difficult or stressful along the way, can really be the best decision you've ever made.
No one knows this more than a few of our chefs at School of Wok, who have each chosen to take drastic career changes to re-train and dive head first into food.
Those who have been to a class at our asian cooking school may have met head chef and School of Wok founder Jeremy Pang, who grew up wanting to be a pilot from a very young age. Then, after studying Biochemical Engineering with Spanish at university, as well a series of jobs in marketing at some major corporations, he finally decided that the food industry was where he wanted to be.
"I only started enjoying eating when I was 10 years old - before that it used to take huge arguments and real pushing for my mum to get me to finish my meals!"
He said that his excitement for food really began when he and his family moved to Singapore in 1994: "then the hawker stalls got me...and my taste buds", he said.
"Hainanese chicken rice, prawns and yu dan fish balls in a noodle soup bowl with deep fried shallots and garlic on top...and of course the infamous chilli sauce from Ghim Moh Market - mmmmm, that's when my real interest in food started. If that can't get your taste buds going, what can?!"
Jeremy's love for food never really abated during uni life – "when I wasn't at lectures (which was quite a lot), I kinda studied the art of 'Can you really deep fry anything and make it taste good?'" – and it continued whilst working for companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Ladbrokes.
"I had always wanted to be in the food industry and wanted to get the discipline in the kitchen to be able to cook in a more efficient way. I had always had a good knack for cooking and being in the kitchen, but when I was younger, I never really used any recipes; I just played around with food. I loved Ready Steady Cook and used to play against my sisters all the time: '20 minutes to see who can cook the best dish' - no competition now though! ;p"
After leaving his job as Product Market Manager for Ladbrokes' roulette and self-service betting machines – "I loved the marketing side, but hated the product I was selling and couldn't stand the politics!" he said – Jeremy decided it was time to pursue his dream by enrolling in a course at the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu during his so-called "proactive year out". Then, following some travel journalism in Thailand with his now wife Dee and a short stint at Samsung as a project manager, Jeremy decided to launch School of Wok in 2009, which first started as a mobile Asian cookery school specialising in teaching Eastern cuisine to students in the comfort of their own homes.
Jeremy's advice to anyone thinking of taking the leap to delve into the wild world of food is: "Have a real good think about it". He said: "If you really love food and think you have the ability to go for it – then put your all into it and don't stop!"
While working in the food industry is by no means an easy job, Jeremy says that the number-one driving force is "passion": "If you work in food, teach food 12 hours a day, read about food, cook food more than three times a day and still can't stop talking about food with family and friends during your limited time off; you should be in the food industry...well that's how I see it anyway!"
Nevertheless, Jeremy stressed the importance of having a "very good basic grounding" in food if you're considering changing career, if not just to ensure you're cooking in the most efficient and cleanest way possible. "Cleanliness, organisation and a thorough understanding of basic kitchen skills is the start to any good food business," he said.
That's why Jeremy and the other professional chefs at School of Wok now run an intensive, hands-on three-week professional cookery course. The 'Culinary Skills Level Two Certificate Programme' is a 90-hour foundation-level course introducing candidates to a range of food preparation and cooking techniques designed to provide a basis for a career in a professional kitchen.
Jeremy said: "We have designed the course specifically to touch on improving your knife skills, whether with a cleaver or normal 20cm chefs knife. We will also work on your organisation in the kitchen - getting everything prepped up and ready, cleaned down and organised before even starting to cook - then how to prepare menus, tips on suppliers and ordering along with a couple of days of actual menu development and room for creativity closer to the end of the course.
"The real message is that in these three weeks, you will not only learn how to make some seriously good Oriental food, but you we have so many little tricks up our chef whites, that you just don't learn in a recipe book or even on YouTube!"
For more information about School of Wok's 'Culinary Skills Level Two Certificate Programme', visit the website here. The first course begins on 6th August.
Our chefs know first-hand about the importance of changing your career path to follow your passion and would love to help you along the way to become the best chef you can be!