Students survive the (kitchen) heat to emerge winners

From left: Republic Polytechnic's principal and CEO Yeo Li Pheow with the winning students from Chung Cheng High School (Main) Khoo Junkai, 14, Edward Cheong, 13, and Elmer Eng, 14, and Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamenta
From left: Republic Polytechnic's principal and CEO Yeo Li Pheow with the winning students from Chung Cheng High School (Main) Khoo Junkai, 14, Edward Cheong, 13, and Elmer Eng, 14, and Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Social and Family Development as well as Education ministries.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Teenagers more used to being waited on had a taste of being on the other side when their skills in hospitality were tested in a nationwide contest for secondary students on Monday.

Twelve teams from 11 schools battled it out at Republic Polytechnic (RP) to come up with and present a three-course party menu as well as an action plan for organising a welcome party for new RP students.

The 12 three-man teams had been whittled down from 258 entries after a first round of seven hospitality-themed challenges in March.

The number of entries was unprecedented in the competition's three-year history, said Ms Yeo May Lee, assistant director of administration at RP's School of Hospitality. The race was her brainchild.

"Students have misconceptions about the hospitality industry, that it is just about being a waiter, bellboy or chef. We wanted them to know that it is more than that, that it can be multidisciplinary and cover areas like sales, accounting and finance as well," she said.

To dial up the pressure, and give the students a taste of the tough conditions and requests encountered by hospitality staff, the finalists, after presenting their menu, had to prepare a healthy, nutritious dish incorporating brown rice within an hour.

A panel of six judges from various sectors of the hospitality industry and Health Promotion Board acted like head chefs, walking around to observe, critique and question the teams as they worked.

Some students, like the team from Hua Yi Secondary School, felt the heat. "Our rice took 45 minutes to cook, and we had to rush through steps towards the end to present the dish," said Secondary 3 student Ong Jiayu.

While the girls from Hua Yi failed to clinch the first place with their laksa-flavoured pudding, even the winning team from Chung Cheng High School (Main) was not spared the pressure.

Unfamiliar with the kitchen equipment, the team thought they had preheated the oven for their Middle Eastern lamb tart, only to find the oven was still cold, said Secondary 2 student Edward Cheong.

But they eventually got it right and clinched the first prize of shopping vouchers worth $800.

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the ministries of Social and Family Development as well as Education, who attended the event, said the Education Ministry is committed to providing such experiences in the curriculum to help students better identify their areas of strengths and interests, and make an informed choice about their education and career pathways in the future.

RP's seven schools host more than 10 outreach competitions and learning journeys for secondary students each year. The polytechnic will also be holding a 3D Printing Challenge today for students interested in pursuing engineering, to design a series of safety accessories for motorcyclists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'Students survive the (kitchen) heat to emerge winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe