ITE, French culinary school renew tie-up

Partnership with Institut Paul Bocuse lets ITE students hone craft in France

Now a chef de partie at Les Amis, Mr Spencer Tay interned at the restaurant in 2015 during his technical diploma programme and returned last year as a full-time employee. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Now a chef de partie at Les Amis, Mr Spencer Tay interned at the restaurant in 2015 during his technical diploma programme and returned last year as a full-time employee. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

When he was only 13, Mr Spencer Tay started devouring cooking shows on TV, a pastime that stirred in him a passion for cooking.

By 14, he was whipping up a braised meat dish with his mother supervising.

Four years later, he was helping out at the bao stall his parents ran at a hawker centre in the West Coast area.

Now a chef de partie at the three-Michelin-starred Les Amis in Shaw Centre, the 26-year-old said: "I was always better at hands-on work rather than studying and reading books. Cooking was interesting, and fun, to me."

Mr Tay, who graduated in 2016 with a Technical Diploma in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), said it was a natural choice for him to pick a Nitec in Western Culinary Arts course in 2012 after secondary school.

He eventually ended up at French culinary school Institut Paul Bocuse (IPB) in Lyon, France, where he spent three months on an exchange programme in 2013.

That stint gave him a preview of the technical diploma programme.

Conducted in collaboration with IPB, the programme, which started in 2011, accepts only a few students every year. More than 200 have graduated from the 21/2-year course, which received its 10th batch of students this year.

ITE first signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with IPB in 2008 to conduct the course, then renewed it in 2015 for another five years. Last Thursday, the institutions renewed it again for another four years.

At the MOU signing last week, ITE chief executive Low Khah Gek said the partnership has given ITE students the opportunity to hone their craft in France.

A number of students completed their final attachment in Michelin-starred restaurants such as La Pyramide and Chateau de Bagnols in France, "exposing them to a diverse working culture and understanding of what it takes to be a top chef", said Ms Low.

Mr Dominique Giraudier, chief executive of IPB, said: "I know that we have learnt a lot from each other and that we have been inspired by each other. In a way, it is already a win-win situation and we have to go even further."

Mr Tay recalled interning in 2015 at French fine dining restaurant Les Amis in Singapore during the technical diploma programme.

In January last year, he returned to the restaurant as a full-time employee. This was after graduating in 2016 and fulfilling his two years of national service.

Currently, he plays the role of an aboyeur - someone who accepts orders from the dining room, relays them to the appropriate stations of the kitchen and checks each plate before it leaves the kitchen.

Mr Tay said that working in a top restaurant is not as stressful as one would imagine.

"In our restaurant, we do the same things (in our roles) every day. When we've mastered them, we may move on to other roles. The techniques I learnt in ITE have really boosted my confidence."

Mr Sebastien Lepinoy, director of culinary and operations at Les Amis Restaurant, said he has been very impressed by ITE students from the technical diploma programme who have interned at the restaurant.

"The students who join us are passionate, hard-working, and are more than willing to learn and ask questions to improve their craft... Having a good foundation allows them to adapt very quickly to their role and the pace in my kitchen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2020, with the headline 'ITE, French culinary school renew tie-up'. Subscribe