10 November 2020

Battling the Norms: Carving a Culinary Career

Pots, pans, cutlery, and utensils — exactly what I thought I’d be around when I decided to pursue my education in the culinary field. 

My culinary journey didn’t start with a four-year-old dreaming of being a chef one day — umm, too cliché. It started off with a baking show. Cousins my age would be watching cartoons whereas I found myself scribbling down ingredients for a recipe instead. This all happened when pursuing culinary as a profession wasn’t rooted in our culture. It existed but people weren’t quite aware of it as a professional career pathway. 

For me, it didn’t begin as a well-thought-out plan. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a doctor. Though no one in my family was a doctor, I dreamt about becoming one since I had always been good in science throughout school (especially biology)

But my story was meant to have a different twist. A radical change in flavour, if I may say so myself, but a happy change, of course. 

When I made the decision to go into culinary instead of medicine, I received comments like, “You could have chosen something better!”, “You don’t need to study to cook, you know?”, and even something as demotivating as “You know we can hire chefs and bakers as cheap labourers, right?” 

Picking culinary over medicine is quite a frowned-upon thing, especially in an Asian household. My choices weren’t quite appreciated (as you probably can tell) but I went against all odds and opted for something I knew I loved.

Fast forward to a few years later, I began my journey with Taylor’s University. I took up a Diploma in Culinary Arts, which was two years long, followed by a year-long Advanced Diploma in Patisserie and Gastronomic Cuisine, and then pursued a Bachelor of Culinary Arts and Foodservice Management (Hons). Family and friends were low-key glad when I was done. Well, joke’s on them because I wasn’t quite done yet because I decided to pursue my Master’s! 

Currently, I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Philosophy (Food Studies). How challenging this profession is is a story to be told some other day. 

Culinary is all about being on your toes 24/7. Choosing to pursue my Master’s wasn’t a priority but it just happened  — and I’m glad it did! As much as it gets tiring at times, alongside other responsibilities I have, it’s something I can wholeheartedly say I enjoy. My desire to become a food journalist led me to pursue a Master’s. But just as the journey of choosing what I wanted to do was difficult, starting my Master’s degree was no easy feat too.

Though my initial plan was to start immediately after completing my degree, Visa issues became my first year-long stumbling block in my road towards getting my Master’s degree. But with every problem presented, there’s always a silver lining — which I’ll get back to you in a bit. After a year of waiting and going back and forth, I was finally able to start the programme in February 2020. 

My second stumbling block was the fees. I was completely startled after registering for the programme. Let me get real with you. If you want to be an international student here, you’ve got to break the bank. But being ambitious and equally stubborn about my goals was the main reason that kept me going despite it being expensive. 

But why did it leave me startled? 

Firstly, international students weren’t granted scholarships, but due to a delay in my programme from the Visa issue (Here’s the silver lining I was talking about earlier!), the regulation was lifted right before I began my programme. That meant a scholarship was on my way! I couldn’t have been any happier. 

Coupled with the financial support from my parents, I got lucky and I firmly believed that things were going to get better.

And as I was the ONLY student from my batch, I enjoyed the privilege of getting taught by lecturers one-on-one which allowed me to receive more attention from my academics. Even though I only had online classes, thank you Ms. Rona, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Since my master’s is full-time research, I’m mostly found on my laptop reading through articles, collecting information, theories, and whatnot, all for a project I am a part of. The collection of data for the research comes next and honestly, I’m not too ready for all that! 

Balancing between the different responsibilities of owning a home-based food business, managing house finances, being a Public Relations Director for the Post-Graduate Student Council, as well as being a writer and a content creator is not a piece of cake for me. One of the most difficult tasks that has been causing constant stress is time-management and juggling everything that’s on my plate. 

But, as I have always told myself, “You did not come this far to only come this far!” which has pretty much kept me going.

I have had my fair share of stumbles and falls. I started off as a girl thinking that culinary was easy enough to pursue her Diploma in, only to realise the difficulties that came with tackling long hours in the kitchen, getting burns, and knife cuts. Then, I continued on this path to undergo the painstaking preparation for the food and beverage service. Trust me when I say this, it was tough. But as years passed and I gained more experience, I grew even stronger and even more ambitious to pursue my passion for culinary.

As stated from personal experience, culinary arts is a journey that isn’t for the faint-hearted. You’ll face your own stumbling blocks as did I but what matters most is the lessons you’ll learn out of it and the attitude you take towards it. I was both too stubborn and ambitious to give up what I wanted!

Remember, no matter what path you take, you’ll always be faced with different challenges — whether they’re the comments made by your loved ones or roadblocks along your chosen path. What matters is that you do your research and measure your preference before you enrol into any programme. For me, it was a Master’s in Philosophy. 

Currently, as I am halfway through my Master’s degree, I feel that what I had chosen is strongly suited for me. I am and will always be a chef but, somewhere in the future, I do wish to be a Food Journalist. In the meantime, I’ll see what life has in store for me and tackle it head-on! 

And for any criticisms about my education pathway, I’ll remember to answer them once I reach the mountaintop.

Find out more about how you can start your career in culinary with Taylor’s Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, and Postgraduate programmes or talk to one of our counsellors

Zernaish Junaid is currently pursuing a Masters of Philosophy (Food Studies) at Taylor’s University. She is also a Director of Public Relations for Taylor’s Post Graduate Student Council. 

Zernaish Tabba
Guest Contributor