Le Cordon Bleu: How Malaysian Graduates Reach Greatness

August 6, 2019

Text by Chee Gee Ren 

Photos by Aiman Azri

What do Dato’ Fazley Yaakob, Darren Chin and Janice Siew, three luminaries in the Klang Valley’s F&B landscape, have in common? Studying at Le Cordon Bleu marked a major turning point in their professional and personal lives, helping to propel them to their present success. Here are their stories of how the culinary institution inspired each of them.

Dato’ Fazley Yaakob

Cooking runs in Fazley Yaakob’s blood – coming from a family who bonded over beloved recipes in the kitchen, Fazley proved his prowess by winning the first season of MasterChef Celebrity Malaysia in 2012, capping a string of accomplishments that included a thriving music and acting career before he turned 30.

But in the culinary realm, there’s eternally more to learn, even for the savviest professional. Following his TV competition triumph, Fazley challenged himself by pursuing Le Cordon Bleu’s Diplôme de Commis Pâtissier, learning new skills to craft classic and contemporary desserts for restaurants and pâtisseries.

“It is the world’s most distinguished culinary school,” says Fazley, now 41, who first studied in Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia for six months and earned honours as his course’s top student. He subsequently completed three more months of training in Le Cordon Bleu Paris and enrolled in a second programme, Hautes Etudes du Goût, an advanced multidisciplinary course.

“It has two different angles that allowed me to pursue my interest. Number one: The know-how of understanding the recipes. Number two is the practical side: You actually get to act on the recipes.”

Fazley lauds both the Malaysian and French campuses for their instructors and facilities, stressing that “in terms of classroom experience, Malaysia is like a mirror image of Paris.” French was the medium of instruction in Paris, but the institute’s supportive staff and friendly translators were his lifelines. He cherishes his time there, including the exploration of local French markets, helping to broaden the horizons of his knowledge.

“In terms of networking, it also works well - the process of learning enables everyone to become a family. You get students all the way from Africa, from the USA, from Japan and everywhere else in the same classes, sitting right next to you. The cultural diversity is amazing at Le Cordon Bleu – many of my classmates are now award-winning chefs in Dubai, in the US, in Korea.”

That stint informs Fazley's current brand of creative cooking, From Rembau to Paris, encapsulating a lifetime of learning that stretches from his hometown in Negeri Sembilan to the polished kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu. 

In less than half a decade following Le Cordon Bleu, Fazley has earned an ever-expanding litany of gastronomic awards, showcased his efforts at high-profile events like the Malaysian International Gourmet Festival, and launched his own restaurant, the popular SukaSucre Bistro in Cheras. He is also ambassador for numerous brands, illustrating his success and popularity.

“My time in Le Cordon Bleu gave me the strength and confidence to open a restaurant, to participate in competitions, to present Malaysian food on the international level. I’ve also done a tour for Le Cordon Bleu Australia, Paris and London to teach Malaysian cooking.”

The menu at SukaSucre impressively reflects both Fazley’s Southeast Asian upbringing and his now-intimate understanding of French fare, spotlighting everything from Bakso with Ratatouille Sauce to Boeuf Bourguignon with Sambal Minang. Desserts like Nyonya Paris (an elaborate treat that includes ingredients like macarons and gula Melaka) and Orange Keria with Orange Butterscotch Sauce underscore uniquely personal recipes by the self-professed ‘kampung boy.’

Fazley, now also a father of four, cookbook author and motivational speaker, recommends Le Cordon Bleu as a springboard for those taking a leap of faith into a culinary career – or even enthusiasts who want to dip their toes in with a daylong Le Cordon Bleu workshop. “I’ve met doctors who left surgery just to cook; I’ve met architects who left their firms to become professional chefs. In Paris, one of my classmates was a 78-year-old man. As long as you enjoy food, you should be able to enjoy Le Cordon Bleu.”

Darren Chin

Mired in a professional rut in 2010, chef Darren Chin relinquished a comfortable executive chef’s position at his family's business, the Dave's Deli chain of casual restaurants, to relearn the basics of classic cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.

The attitude required to grow in Le Cordon Bleu, Darren notes, is to be unafraid of failure, to ask plenty of questions and to absorb knowledge like sponge. Chefs hired by the school as instructors are not merely former working professionals; they come from different schools of thoughts, philosophies and ideologies, rooted in the rich history and heritage of French gastronomy.

“It’s not only about technique. Technique can be taught – I can teach you how to blanch a tomato, how to peel a tomato, how to cut a tomato 15 different ways. But it’s about making you understand why,” Darren explains.

Darren credits instructors for helping to “open my eyes to different possibilities, to not just following a particular recipe,” encompassing everything from preparing tarte fine aux pommes (fine apple tarts) to a piece of asparagus. “What are the different ways you can look at it? What are the ways you can present it in its purest form or other forms, without over-manipulating the ingredients, to respect the origins of where it came from.”

He speaks with a well-versed, articulate intensity about his vocation. “If the foundations are weak, you cannot progress to become a better cook. When I entered the school, I didn’t have solid basics. I went in with the instincts of knowing how to taste and how to notice when something is not right, but it did not necessarily mean that I knew the basics at the time. You need to know how to walk before you can run.”

Freshly armed with Le Cordon Bleu’s Grand Diplôme in Cuisine and Pâtisserie, Darren opened his flagship DC Restaurant in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in 2014, heralding a new chapter in his celebration of modern French cuisine. It marked the fruition of his time in the family business and at Le Cordon Bleu, but Darren, now one of Malaysia’s most acclaimed chefs, has continued to forge forward. He recently opened a second restaurant, Bref, a more casual hub for seasonal specialities, with highlights like breast of French foie gras duck, dry-aged in-house for seven days and smoked in hay.

In the spirit of learning from, teaching and complementing one another, Darren has also taken up the role of supporting younger chefs who seek to express themselves, including his current senior sous chef at DC Restaurant, Tran TT, a French national with Vietnamese roots. DC Restaurant’s former sous chef, Lim Wei Han, is now the chef de cuisine at Bref. “It’s not just about hiring a sous chef. It’s about building a relationship and empowering the next person to take over, to move on to the next step in their career.”

Janice Siew

Janice Siew has come a long way since her earliest disasters in the kitchen at the age of 10. “My first secret attempt at cooking was while my mother was taking her afternoon nap. I decided to test a recipe for an omelette. Obviously, it burnt, but it showed that my curiosity for cooking was always there.”

However, a career in banking – not baking – became the Ipoh-born Janice’s priority, per her family’s dictates. She acquiesced, acquiring a business degree and spending seven years in the corporate sector, but her culinary passion still burned bright. “Even while I was working at the bank, I’d be reading on and on about baking and I’d be baking cakes myself.”

Janice’s life changed after she attended a Le Cordon Bleu workshop and discovered that scholarships were offered for full-time courses. The selection involved a video submission, interview and practical test on making a quiche. Her resolve reaped her the opportunity to study for the Diplôme de Pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia in 2014, where a vision of her future crystallised with guidance from the school’s industry experts.

“When I studied at Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, I already had a business plan, to supply cakes to cafes. I learned things like how to organise a kitchen, since the kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu is very professional. Switching from a corporate life is very intimidating, but I’m very happy that I went to Le Cordon Bleu, as it really immersed me in the industry.”

Janice appreciates how Le Cordon Bleu equipped her with genuine skills to flourish in the real world. Classroom demonstrations by veteran chefs and individual hands-on sessions contributed the building blocks to fuel her capabilities. “There’s only so much that YouTube can teach you, and at other times, the information on the internet can be overwhelming, even for a simple thing like custard cream.”

“Among the benefits of studying in Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia for me, the ingredients and tools we used were localised and easily accessible here. The chefs here tell us how they adapt their recipes, such as croissants and sugar art, to deal with the weather and humidity. It’s very practical information, working as well with the different types of flour available here compared to Europe.”

After graduating, Janice ventured into creating her own pastry-and-cake brand, Petiteserie, coupling the business acumen from her banking years with techniques she honed at Le Cordon Bleu to supply cakes to scores of top cafes in the Klang Valley.

“After studying at Le Cordon Bleu, I’ve stayed loyal to the French side of things, focusing on quality products and doing things that I love and am passionate about. I’m all about taste and texture,” says the pastry perfectionist, whose talents are revealed in the intricate layers of her signature hand-laminated croissants.

She, too, aims to pass on her knowledge, running classes on crafting croissants and other viennoiseries while offering made-to-order bakes for wholesale and personal purchases, spanning lemon meringue tarts to luscious Gula Melaka banana cakes.

“It’s not an easy industry – it’s an industry where you have to be resilient. It’s not a bed of roses – you’ll need to be working on your feet the whole time. You’ll need a good combination of making the right decisions, in terms of financials, working with the right people and finding a strong team, and putting dedication into your recipes.”

SukaSucre Bistro, 27 & 29, Jalan Sri Hartamas 7, Taman Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. Website: facebook.com/sukasucrebistro 

DC Restaurant, 44 Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Website: facebook.com/DarrenChinRestaurant Tel: 03-7731-0502

Petiteserie, Jalan Burhanuddin Helmi, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Website: facebook.com/petiteserie Tel: 012-257-7587

Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, Sunway College, 5, Jalan Universiti, Sunway City, Bandar Sunway, 47500 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Tel: 03-5632-1188 Website: https://www.cordonbleu.edu/malaysia/home/en

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