Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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LEE GIM POH JACK

JUNIOR SOUS CHEF

MARINA MANDARIN SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? It’s been about five years. After completing my national service, I joined SHATEC to pursue a Diploma in Culinary Skills. I was first attached to Marina Mandarin as a trainee for six months, and upon graduation, I joined Marina Mandarin full-time - first in the AquaMarine restaurant, and then the banquet kitchen. In SHATEC, I was mainly trained in cooking Western food. But when I joined the hotel, I worked on preparing local food as my chef gave me the opportunity to learn more cuisines beyond the ones I was already trained in. After I got promoted, I returned to focus on Western cuisine, and right now. I would say that’s my specialty.

What made you decide to join the hotel industry? I’ve had the passion for cooking since secondary school, when we had Food and Nutrition classes. It gives me a lot of joy to see guests with smiles on their face after a good meal. Compared to independent restaurants, I felt that there were more learning opportunities and experiences to gain here at the hotel.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis? I start my day cooking the meals to be served for the functions to be held later in the day. We also have to start preparing for events to be held the next day. Once I’ve completed this, I plan the menu for any upcoming important or VIP functions. If my supervisor is not around, I supervise a team of eight to make sure that their jobs for the day are done as well.

How has your career journey been so far? It has been very challenging but rewarding at the same time. I’ve learnt and grown a lot; I now manage my stress and solve problems more efficiently. For example, before events, we try to plan ahead for any dietary restrictions that a guest may have. But during the event, new orders will often come in that we have to accommodate quickly and work with whatever is available in the kitchen. We have to come up with something that not just fits the restrictions, but also meets our own quality standards. It takes some time to get used to that and keep a cool head, but it’s also why I’m always excited when I’m in the kitchen!

How has your life changed since you started working in the industry? I learn something new every day, which makes working here very meaningful. Since I started, I’ve been exposed to cooking techniques that I never knew about before, like using a sous vide machine to cook meat and fish, and I’m constantly being introduced to new and rare ingredients from all over the world. For one VIP event, there were certain ingredients that I’d never worked with before, and it was challenging to have to figure out how to put them together and create dishes that worked. But it proved to be a great learning experience.

Working here has also given me some amazing memories. I’ve had the opportunity to serve both the Prime Minister and the President of Singapore. We have also catered for some of the biggest events in Singapore, like the National Day Parade and the FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? I really enjoy working in a team, because I love the feeling of everyone working together to prepare a great meal. And it’s even better because everyone here is so positive and motivated.

How do you think you contribute to a guest’s happiness during his/her stay? They say a hungry man is an angry man. So our job is to keep our guests happy by giving them the best dining experiences. When our guests give us compliments and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed their meals, we know we’ve done our job well.

You were awarded three Gold medals and won the Best Chef of the Year title at Food & Hotel Asia 2018. What was the entire experience like and how did it feel? I was nominated by Executive Chef Chan Tuck Wai to represent the hotel. The training experience was extremely tough, as I had to conceptualise many dishes to cook and present. During the training, my chef mentor would be around to watch over what I was doing and he would give pointers and feedback at almost every step! In all, the training lasted close to eight months. We needed to improve on our recipe each time we cooked to make sure that eventually, what we presented was perfect. It was physically and mentally draining for sure, but I’m happy that all the hard work paid off.

Who do you learn from to make yourself better for the job? I learn from my chef mentor. The biggest thing he has taught me is to always be humble and willing to lend a helping hand to others. When I attend industry dinners, I try to engage with other leading chefs in the industry and we exchange pointers and talk about our experiences.

What are some challenges you’ve faced? How did you learn from them? Time management in the kitchen is one of the most challenging skills to pick up. We have very little time to deliver the goods, but we also have to deal with unforeseen circumstances that come up along the way. However, this is something that you grow accustomed to with experience. Over time, you learn to solve problems efficiently and with a cool head, while making sure your standards don’t slip.

With all the experience/mentorship that you’ve gained, what do you hope to achieve? I’m grateful for the guidance I’ve had and I want to give back by guiding and inspiring chefs who are just starting out in the industry. I’m honoured to have been invited by SHATEC to be the guest chef for their Gourmet Night, which

is a monthly event hosted by SHATEC. A guest chef, usually one of SHATEC’s outstanding alumni, will be invited to present a five-course fine dining menu, and, in the process, impart knowledge, skills and experience to SHATEC trainees, to inspire the next generation of culinary leaders.

What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Never be afraid to try something new. Stay humble and enjoy the ride.