Something happened today that rattled a nostalgic bone of mine.
Most of you would not know this, but I regret not writing a post/diary entry or any form of written recount of the stories that occurred back during my 8 month stint in the army. Yes I know it might have been years ago, but still, the experience, the hardships, the friendships fostered, these were beautiful and worth remembering in every right. So with the passing of my very first overseas study experience, I shall enumerate it's unfolding. Burn the candle on both ends till its done, lest my procrastination habits kick in.
I'm bringing in the coffee on this one. it's going to be a long night.
So it started off with a very innocent request to the parents to study patisserie in Le Cordon Bleu whilst in my third year of university. Back then, it was a struggle, we're not even talking about keeping the grades up but my hopes were sinking like a dead weight to the bottom of the sea. Working thru the dark period and the other middle eastern drama that ensued afterwards, I finally earned my keeps to an entirely new experience.
Flashing back to the first moment i stepped out of Sydney airport, the cold winter air slapping me across the face. I never felt so alive before, the past few years of self inflicted pain, like a load, shoved off my shoulders. I took my a breath of liberty. My first.
Living in Australia strangely made me a very independent individual. I fed myself when I was hungry (not too difficult when you have all the leftover bakes from school), clothed myself warmly for the winter, got around to places (public transport is pretty convenient in sydney too) and found myself jobs just to earn my keeps. let's see, I started off being a waitress at a small cafe in Balmain, that stint lasted for about 7 months, Loved the wraps and the lebanese themed specials. Then I juggled the job of pastry cook at a dessert bar specialising in dessert pizzas in the form of cinnamon scroll like delights stuffed with a myriad of ingredients including brownie, streusel, bananas, chocolate sauce and apple pie mixture. Following an unanticipated closing down of the business, I moved on to become a dishwasher at a nearby cafe/restaurant near my area of residence. Needless to say, I smelt of food everyday, the stench of sweat coupled with splatters of grease on my black shirt following me into the soft sheets of my bed. From there, I was promoted to kitchen hand where I started to deal with food preparation, slicing, dicing, marination and gradually moved up to the pass where I got to take charge of the sauces and garnish stations for breakfast. That deserves an honorable mention, I feel, as I listen to the sweet rambling of my classmates going on and on about their tiresome part time work at patisseries; I on the other hand was busting it out in a proper cuisine kitchen. My fingers burnt and swollen from handling the hot cast iron pans on the grill. Battle scars as we call them... The day the chef called in a new dishwasher to handle my old job, I smiled whilst passing on words of advice as he scurried around like a headless chicken; the boiling hot pans and oily dishes piled up to dizzy heights. I had gone somewhere...
School on the other hand seemed the opposite spectrum of what the real world is like. Slow paced and extremely laidback.. i mostly took the time to absorb whatever I could while fooling around with whatever I could lay my hands on. making taiwanese meat pies out of quiches and curry chicken to go along with the fresh baguettes from our ovens; I was known to most of my chefs as 'the girl who would always does something different'; not sure whether that's a good thing or bad thing, i mostly like to believe its the former.
The terms flew by like the wind.. basic, intermediate and then superior. With the final judgement of our original gateau, it was off to the working world. Out of God's blessing, I landed myself a job in Cheeky Chocolate at North Strathfield. Lucky since I was competing with many of my graduating classmates for the job. But the serious work only ensued after my participation in the Hunter Valley Callebaut Chocolate Entremet competition. After weeks of hard work, tormenting sessions of brainstorming, trials and tears of befuddlement; the D-day had finally arrived. All the anticipation and nervousness just disappeared on the day of the event, plating up completed like a breeze. Perhaps it was the venue, the proximity of hunter valley from our work benches in Sydney that made any form of regrets or hopes for last minute adjustments almost impossible that somehow put my mind at ease. The prospect of an imminent ending bestowed in my heart. At the end of the day, I emerged a silver medalist. A huge feat considering I was a total noob in the scene and it was an open competition with many of my peers having been in the pastry scene for much longer than I have.
A million thanks goes out to my mentor and head chef Andre Sandison for his constant guidance and gentle prodding in the process of research and development. Thank you for not letting go of your expectations towards me.
Life in Cheeky Chocolate was another out of this world experience. Whilst I happily sunk myself into a comfortable pace of learning at work, a sudden turn of events left us handicapped in numbers. Yumi, I and Adele struggled to keep the place afloat. we hit rock bottom when a new head chef entered our midst and stirred up chaos in the kitchen, abolishing certain production rituals whilst creating non-sensical others. With a demonic temper to boot and a not so domineering idea of a menu in tow, it wasn't long before he was given the boot. Despite his short term of stay, the damages had been done.... we had lost another in the midst of the friction caused between the boss and our dearest apprentice. There I was left to pick up the broken pieces of the shop. It was a miracle I found a team in time to help me speed up the recuperation process. Till date, I hold this as a proudest achievement. Not that I got any recognition out of it (maybe an article in the strathfield good food guide), but still, silently I recognize my capabilities when put to the pressure test.
With all that done. you would wonder why in the world would I return to singapore given that my basic pay in Australia was at least double the amount I would receive here. That's where I left out a part of the story. The part that tugs at my heart string and releases butterflies into the cavities of my vacant heart. G. Had it not been for him, I wouldn't have had a blast in school. G rubbed my swollen ankles before bedtime, listening to my tales of braving the cockroach infested backalley while dragging the trashbags to the main bins. G kept me warm thru those cold nights. G nurtured me back to health after a bout of flu which put me through a series of vomiting spells on the way home from work, G accompanied me to the beach at sunrise just because I wanted to. I only joined the hunter valley competition because G was taking part in the chocolate showpiece event. G laughed at my lame jokes and silly antics and made me feel much less of a dork than I am. G and I went to beautiful places to enjoy spell binding moments together. G helped me pull through my experience at Cheeky, giving advice and listening to my complaints all in symphony.
Belgian Beer Cafe
Rostang at the Atlantis
Almaz by Momo
Le Pain Quotidien
Lime Tree Cafe
Fundamentally-flawed is Lee Sihan. 27 going on 28, she is a dessert enthusiast,
food nomad, wanderer of lands and a pastry chef currently working in Singapore.
Fueled by a lifelong addiction to all things sweet, and a burning desire to travel the globe
follow her as she embarks on delicious escapades both in and out of the kitchen