The Paris of Southeast Asia in KL?!

Sunway Le Cordon Bleu Aims to Place KL as the Paris of Southeast Asia by raising the bar and standard of culinary education in this part of the world.

Before they even got a single cent, the Sunway Group had already invested over RM7 mil into setting up a state-of-the-art kitchen with fully equipped facilities according to Le Cordon bleu worldwide standards to enable Le Cordon Bleu Classic Cycle programmes to be delivered here in Malaysia.  Tucked in the heart of Sunway City, Ming Rathswohl Ho, General Manager of Le cordon Bleu Malaysia says Malaysia clinched the joint venture with the prestigious institution known for establishing the crème de la crème standards of culinary delivery. And, since it first opened its doors in 2012, the reception and delivery have been nothing short of spectacular.

“We won the best culinary institute in the region for 2016 and 2018 at the Excellence Award ceremony of the World Gourmand summit in Singapore which is like the Oscars of the Food & Beverage (F&B) scene,” she shares adding that the first class comprised of nine students.

“We use imported produce and the chefs are experienced so it’s not a typical school but it equips students with French culinary techniques. Le Cordon Bleu is highly connected with the industry. Since they know our students are adequately trained – employability is 100% if they want to find a job.

“Malaysia’s potpourri of cuisines is among the best in the world. Hence, it’s one of the reasons why Le Cordon Bleu chose to place the school in this part of the world. Our alumni success stories also feature the best of the best with many of our alumnus now telling the story. We’re leading the flock as televisions hosts and celebrity chefs and so on,” she says highlighting the finer points enveloping Le Cordon Bleu’s spillover effect encompassing the elements of culture, finesse and lifestyle.

Executive Chef cum Cuisine Chef Instructor of Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia Stephane Frelon,  when met after the school’s final graduation ceremony for 2019 agrees, saying that students have to undergo nine months encompassing three sessions per lesson, with each session lasting three hours.

“Like a television show, each session takes three hours. I’m cooking live for them every morning and this can entail two to three recipes. After that, it’s their time to cook. Not all the three recipes though – as they usually handle one or two recipes in three hours. A session can accommodate up to 16 students while the smallest group would be eight students,” he says.

Graduation he adds, takes place after nine months of training and after completing three levels of Basic, Intermediate and Superior where students need to pass each level to progress to the next. Upon passing the final exam, they will attain their Diploma.

“We’re on the French culinary programme based on French techniques,” explains the French maestro of culinary who has lived more than 10 years in Canada and six years in England.

“The message I spread to the students is that the technique will be the same foundation skills that we teach at Le Cordon Bleu mainly by French Chefs – 90% of whom have teaching and extensive industry experience, having worked in renowned Michelin restaurants around the world.

“At the end of the nine-month programme, we have a final test stretching four hours in which students have to prepare one starter, one main course, one dessert and an hour’s actual teaching lesson on how to for example, prepare salmon. The test is to see if they can cook according to the Le Cordon Bleu standard because they can be the best chef but not be able to teach,” he says knowingly.

By virtue of their extensive experience in the industry, many Le Cordon Bleu chefs he attest, are around their 40s in the industry – having changed careers.

“There is an English saying: ‘When you don’t know how to do it anymore, teach it,’” he says in jest, exploding into a wide grin. “The only thing students have to be is fluent in English. They need to understand and read the student manual. There’s no pre-requisite… It’s better to not have any prior learning to cook experience – as it’s better to unlearn to learn,” stresses Ming who says they take in students as young as 17 while the age limit thereafter is not restricted.

“We’ve had our oldest student here being over 60 years old. In Paris, they had a student aged over 80 years old.  We had a 50-year old American come to learn from us recently… As long as you are responsible with the kitchen knife and won’t hurt anyone or yourself, we will take you in,” she says tongue in cheek.

Chef Stephane concurs, saying the syllabus which is adopted from Paris Le Cordon Bleu focuses on French technique. In Paris for instance, the dish can be chicken and mushroom as the main ingredients while in Canada, instead of mushroom – the vegetable can be localised as asparagus. So, the traits of Le Cordon Bleu is technique – in killing two birds with one stone with the technique being interpreted through French recipes.

“For instance, if you teach on how to prepare a fish mousse it’s normally interpreted through a French recipe – but you could relate that lesson taught and apply it to our everyday local dish as in fish ball or otak otak  – so technique is the same but the interpretation is different but localised,” she concludes.

Basics such as teaching students on the types of knives and how to use them are part of the programme.

Chef Stephane agrees that the trend at the moment is fusion as “the world is moving swiftly and everybody is watching.”

“In our programme, students get everyday assessment which constitutes 50% of the final score. There’s a final examination where they have to also produce an internal buffet with 35 dishes for 50 people comprising starters and fish, meats and other dishes including dessert with recipes from France, Spain, etc,” he adds.

Ming says the money spent on the course is comparable to the value received with a totally equipped and comprehensive kitchen with individual stations for students to work on after their lessons while the chef ratio is kept to a maximum 16 students per class.

“After the cooking demonstration – they practise. It’s the same for pastry. When students graduate – they will be proficient to take up Commis Chef positions in any hotel or restaurant.

“Next year, we’re celebrating 125 years since Le Cordon Bleu was established in 1895 – with more than 20 schools all over the world. We’re also collaborating with our alumni to promote our school in the region and worldwide as we are an internationally accredited institute to enable enrolment of international students.

Le Cordon Bleu chose Malaysia instead of Singapore because Malaysia has good cost of living, a better lifestyle and Sunway City is a resort city in itself. Where else will you find a mall, skating rink, own transportation system, properties in condos that you can rent with more than 3,000 rooms for students and a hospital,” she enthuses.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive says Chef Stephane as students from Korea have opted to come to Kuala Lumpur to learn and improve on their English, as opposed to staying in Korea to learn there.

“Our students have thanked us for their amazing unique experience. And, it’s a lifestyle we want to promote. After all, artisan cooking shows that Le Cordon Bleu is not only a training ground – but an experience for life. And, if any school can last for so long as Le Cordon Bleu, that means it’s sustainable and shows that it’s keeping up with the trends paired with traditional technique and is relevant.  Just like how miniskirts have now come back in vogue,” sums Ming with a wink in her eye.

Dato’ Fazley Yaakob, Celebrity Chef & Owner of Suka Sucre Bistro

“Being in Le Cordon Bleu allowed me to dig deeper into what I thought was soft passion but had become my profession and lifestyle. I learned and explored the French way of cooking whilst at school. It also made me a wholesome person being able to share what I had learned from Le Cordon Bleu. As the first Ambassador of Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, it means shouting out loud to the world that ‘Look, I’m a Le Cordon Bleu graduate.’ To master the techniques, innovate and present a good cake, you need to learn from Le Cordon Bleu Master Chef instructors. Most importantly, being an ambassador also means to be able to represent the brand both in words and actions.”

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