Sharon Au launches online culinary academy Ti Yan with famous chefs teaching French cooking

At a media launch held at Dempsey Cookhouse on Dec 19, former Mediacorp actress Sharon Au said she had approached the chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and Singapore. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Former Mediacorp actress Sharon Au, 44, is launching an online French culinary academy. And she does not even cook.

Instead, French chefs from Paris and Singapore will serve as mentors for the classes. At a media launch held at Dempsey Cookhouse on Dec 19, she said she had approached the chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and Singapore.

Singapore-based chefs on the roster include Vianney Massot whose eponymous restaurant won a star this year, Patrick Heuberger from Atout and Gunther Hubrechsen from Gunther's.

Julien Royer from Odette and Sebastien Lepinoy from Les Amis, both with three Michelin stars, said they are considering signing up.

Au, who now lives in Paris, was inspired to set up the academy after talking to show-business friends who visited her. She had moved to the French capital without a job in 2017 after leaving Mediacorp.

Singer Tanya Chua, a former classmate, was there to attend three-month pastry courses at Ferrandi. She did that for eight years because she could not take time off for a full course that would take more than a year.

And fellow actress Jeanette Aw had gone for three-month courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok and Tokyo.

Au realised that these courses not only take up time but are also very costly. For example, a 16-month professional diploma course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris costs €49,900 (S$75,364) and there is also the cost of living to consider.

"What about people who cannot afford the money or the time?" she said. "So I had a crazy idea. Why don't I start something?"

She had also met Chua's classmates, who were mostly from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. She said: "What I found startling was that most of them don't even speak French. So not only do they spend a lot of money, they also understand only a quarter of what the teacher is talking about.

"For my school, the concept is that wherever you are, whatever language you speak, you can, through the website, learn and interact with the chefs at a fraction of the price. The courses are translated to English and Mandarin, and are also subtitled."

She named the school Ti Yan, which is Chinese for experience, saying she wanted to move away from the norm of using a French word.

She took her idea to her former boss, Mr Teo Ming Kian, the previous chairman of Mediacorp, who introduced her to a friend in Paris, Mr Jean Schmitt.

Mr Schmitt, the managing partner of Jolt Capital, a private equity company, became an investor and they started things rolling in November last year.

Au now works at Jolt Capital as an investment director for the Asian market, but said Ti Yan is her baby and she has invested $100,000 of her own money in it.

The academy works like an online university, she explained. Students can choose a professional module at $688 which includes 28 demonstration videos and 100 pages of text. They can also book interactive online sessions where mentor chefs watch them cook, with an interpreter if necessary.

At the end of the course, there will be a one-week immersion in the kitchen of a chef of the students' choice and they will be certified if they make the grade. There is no time frame for completing the course, so students learn at their own pace.

Those who want a simpler course can pick the express module for $138, where they learn some French dishes they can whip up for a dinner party.

Au has a five-year plan to expand the school. Up next are courses for wine appreciation, followed by non-food-related topics such as opera and art appreciation. She is also looking at other European cultures, with Italy on the cards.

Chef Heuberger said that although he had been teaching cooking for more than 15 years, it had always been in a demo kitchen with a limited audience.

He added: "Online classes reach many more viewers. A steak preparation video I did a few years ago for Hubers Butchery has now more than five millions views. I find that amazingly crazy."

He will be teaching traditional French dishes such as 40 Garlic Chicken, which is a big hit in his restaurant.

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