Cooking Up A Dream

Leaving her son under the care of her mother while she relocated to Ipoh was the most difficult decision Noor Hadilah Abdullah ever had to make. Even so, the 27-year-old single mother who hails from Kuching, Sarawak grabbed the opportunity to further her studies when she was offered a place in a culinary school and a loan from the Skills Development Fund Corporation (PTPK).

Having joined the work force right after completing her Form Five, little did she imagine that she would one day head back to school. She said, “I come from a very poor family where my father is a security guard and my mother, a housewife. After Form 5, I worked in shopping centres as a sales promoter and sales clerk, earning entry-level salaries. I had intended to help out my family but with my income, it was barely enough for my son and I. It was also not easy working and taking care of my child at the same time.

Chef Jumi in kitchen practical
Chef Jumi in kitchen practical

“I am now enrolled in a culinary course and working very hard at learning from my lecturers and following the syllabus given to us. I look forward to training in five-star hotels and giving the best to my family. I wish to upgrade myself and know that I am the only one who can do that. One day, I would like to open my own restaurant.”

Hadilah’s course mate, Nessy Lucas, 25, is from a rural village in Serian, Sarawak. Like Hadilah, Lucas took a big step in coming to Ipoh, also with the hope of upgrading her family’s standard of living through picking up new skill set in the culinary arts. If Lucas’ parents were unable to afford to put her through tertiary education eight years ago after her Form Five, it is still the case now. Therefore, her PTPK loan was vital in allowing her to enrol.

some of the students in kitchen practical under the watchful eye of their lecturer
some of the students in kitchen practical under the watchful eye of their lecturer

For Yu Eugine, 19, from Seremban, enrolling into Crew Skills International Culinary School of Asia together with his younger brother has been a positive development in his young life. Having left school at the age of thirteen, Yu has held a string of jobs at snooker parlours, karaoke joints and online betting shops.

He shared, “I knew that I needed to equip myself with skills in order to secure a better job. When my younger brother completed his Form 5, our mother suggested that we take up a culinary course. I was initially sceptical but these past six months had been a great experience. I learnt so much, I am confident that I will graduate and work in a five-star hotel for my training. I hope to travel the world using my new skills and maybe one day become a prominent chef for a chain of hotels.”

L-R: Leon Joshua Dennis, Muhd. Amirul bin Muhd. Khairol and Koon Wai Kit
L-R: Leon Joshua Dennis, Muhd. Amirul bin Muhd. Khairol and Koon Wai Kit

Hadilah, Lucas and Yu are all the more inspired hearing that their seniors, Leon Joshua Dennis, Muhd. Amirul bin Muhd. Khairol and Koon Wai Kit, have started working either in a five-star hotel or on a cruise ship.

The young men are just three from the most recent graduating batch of the culinary school who have embarked on exciting careers, finally seeing the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Dennis, who is now based in Miami working for a cruise company as a Commis I, dropped out from his A Levels class where his parents had hoped that he would pursue law or accountancy. For a while, he did not know what he should do, but what he did know was that academics were not for him.

“I enjoy cooking and when I heard about this course offered in my hometown, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t know what would come out of it but age is on my side and I was willing to give it a shot. In the blink of an eye, I have sailed through two years,” recalled Dennis.

For 24-year-old Amirul, relocating to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur has not been without its challenges. The main problem for him, being an only child, was leaving his elderly parents to pursue a course which many deemed as more suitable for females.

He added, “But cooking goes beyond boundaries. It is an art which allows freedom in creativity. I am excited about my new career and I hope to at least spend three years on a cruise and grab this opportunity to see the world. It is definitely a far cry from my previous front office job!”

According to Crew Skills Managing Director Subramaniyam Pillay, working on a cruise ship is a high-pressure job requiring competency from the start and being equipped with the mental capacity to take pressure.

He added, “Coming from a humble background, I want to provide this same opportunity in the hospitality industry to those who are willing to put their heads down to work. PTPK loans make that possible. The Government is giving an opportunity to young people from underprivileged backgrounds the chance to break out of poverty. We train and place them.”

Koon was such a person. He was raised in a single-parent family after his mother passed away when he was nine years old. He didn’t see his life heading anywhere meaningful working as a junior barista and helping out in a day care centre for toddlers, until he enrolled himself in the culinary course and learnt the art of cooking from scratch.

Note: An edited version of this article [Cooking up a dream] was published on 2nd April, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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