New scheme to train next generation of hawkers

Madam Lai Yau Kiew (centre), 62, of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist in Hong Lim Food Centre, will be one of the trainers in the new Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme. With her are her daughters, Ms Kristen Choong (left) and Ms Jill Choong, both in
Madam Lai Yau Kiew (centre), 62, of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist in Hong Lim Food Centre, will be one of the trainers in the new Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme. With her are her daughters, Ms Kristen Choong (left) and Ms Jill Choong, both in their 30s.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Trainees get to learn from veteran chefs; registration begins today

Veteran chefs will pass on their skills under a scheme being launched today to preserve Singapore's hawker heritage.

The Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme is a collaboration between the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and National Environment Agency (NEA), supported by real estate firm Knight Frank and The Business Times.

Registration for the 50 places begins today and is open to Singapore citizens or permanent residents aged 18 and over.

The scheme will see WDA providing "hawkerpreneurs" with Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications in food and beverage. WDA will also provide a training grant of up to 90 per cent of the course fees.

Training will be administered by Project Dignity, one of the WDA's Continuing Education and Training Centres for the food and beverage sector. NEA will provide stalls for trainees to showcase their culinary skills.

Knight Frank and The Business Times, via YMCA's Project Hawkerpreneurs, are to fund up to 90 per cent of the on-the-job training course fee.

Trainees will learn from the veterans for up to four weeks before being assessed by them. They will be taught how to prepare ingredients, cook, present food, serve customers and keep their stall clean and tidy.

The "Hawker Master Trainers" include Madam Lai Yau Kiew of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist in Hong Lim Food Centre, Mr Thian Boon Hua of Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice in Balestier Road and Mr Tan Ah Guan of Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow in Marine Parade Food Centre.

Madam Lai, 62, is looking forward to seeing the trainees in action - and also grateful for the chance to pass on her expertise. She had a leg operation in March and struggles to stand for long. Her two daughters, Ms Kristen Choong and Ms Jill Choong, both in their 30s, manage the day-to- day running of her two adjacent wonton mee stalls, while she helps out once in a while.

Said Ms Kristen Choong: "We think this is a great idea, because we want our mother and grandmother's legacies in this trade to continue."

The stall was first set up in 1965 by their grandmother, who handed it down to their mother. Both daughters are single and feel the urgency of passing on the baton - even if it is to someone outside the family.

"We want to pass down our skills while we are still able- bodied for this trade has really strained our health," said Ms Kristen Choong. Their days begin at 3am with food preparation, then it is non-stop from 7am, when the stall opens, to 7pm.

Mr Richard Tan, director of NEA's Hawker Centres Division, said: "This collaboration between NEA, WDA and the private sector will contribute to preserving our unique hawker heritage."

The programme hopes to create a supply of hawkers for the 10 hawker centres to be built by 2017.

It is the latest boost for the industry, which hit the headlines in July when Singapore hawkers triumphed over celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge.

brynasim@sph.com.sg

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