New centre trains ex-offenders to cook up a storm, and make a fresh start in life

HCSA Academy Culinary Training Centre trainees Colin Chan (left), 55, and Dwight Soriano, 33, at the launch of the centre on May 8, 2018.
HCSA Academy Culinary Training Centre trainees Colin Chan (left), 55, and Dwight Soriano, 33, at the launch of the centre on May 8, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
The HCSA Academy Culinary Training Centre was formally opened by an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on May 8, 2018.
The HCSA Academy Culinary Training Centre was formally opened by an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on May 8, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - In a fit of rage, Mr Dwight Soriano set off a carpark explosion last year and spent the next 10 months behind bars.

When he was released from jail, he found that he had nowhere to go.

He ended up living in HCSA Highpoint - a halfway house for former offenders run by HCSA Community Services - and enrolling in a culinary training course offered by the group.

He graduated from the HCSA Academy Culinary Training Centre's course on Tuesday afternoon (May 8), and starts his new job at Marina Mandarin Hotel next week.

"I'm so looking forward to it," said the 33-year-old, who will be working as a commis cook. "I've always had a thing for food."

Mr Soriano was one of five people who graduated from the centre on Tuesday.

Two will join him at the hotel, while the others will work at the Aston's restaurant chain.

The centre was formally opened by an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, on the same day.

Dr Yaacob said he was glad to see how the trainees were determined to start afresh and make a living for themselves.

"With their passion for cooking and their determination to master a new skill, I am confident that they will bring cheer to the people they cook for, and brighten their own lives in the process," he said.

Added Mr Soriano: "The structure, the rules and regulations, the discipline - all this really helped. We had a safe environment to make mistakes."

Those who graduate from the six-week culinary course get a Higher Certificate in Food Services (Culinary Arts) from the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification.

HCSA will also help them to secure full-time placements in dining establishments, said chief executive of HCSA Community Services, Ms Dominique Choy.

Ms Choy added that there are plans to extend the programme to other social service organisations.

Apart from offering culinary training, HCSA Community Services also works to rehabilitate former offenders, and help single parents and teenage girls who have suffered abuse.