Let’s Talk: Culinary Arts
“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” - Julia Child
Khairul Anwar, 25, started his culinary journey from the simple slice of an onion.
“There’s a way to it, a technique to cut an onion, the proper way. So that intrigued me. I asked my mom if she could teach me how to cut an onion with a knife, that was how it started.”
“Years grew by and I got more independent. I learnt how to cook with my mom’s dishes, cook for my family and took in their comments and critiques. When I received good comments, I got addicted to that feeling,” Khairul Anwar shared.
Now a full-time chef working at a fine-dining restaurant in Singapore, Khairul Anwar confessed that he did not always see this as his future. Before becoming a chef, he was working at PSA with a substantial salary, however the job was stagnant for him and he sought a bigger purpose in his life.
In the back of his mind, he knew he loved cooking - that was his passion. A passion that was sparked from seeing his mother prepare dishes for the family and spending his childhood in the kitchen.
Khairul Anwar agreed that to work in such a high level setting of that of a fine dining restaurant, an individual needs to be detailed-oriented and meticulous to prevent hiccups during the service time - alongside being a good chef.
Like any other job, there are certain sets of challenges that comes with being a chef - especially a fine-dining chef.
“There’s a lot of self-sacrifice, missing out on weddings and social gatherings, and having to work long hours everyday, especially on weekends and public holidays. Working for 12 to 13 hours a day and you are constantly on your feet. Sometimes you skip meals or you eat at abnormal timings. When you talk about challenges in the kitchen, you have to adapt to their menu and cuisine every time you start out a different job at a different restaurant.”
For Khairul Anwar, it takes him roughly about a week to adapt to a new kitchen environment.
In his previous workplace, he was the only Malay amongst cooks from many other different races; Chinese, Koreans and even South Americans. On top of navigating the kitchen through the many thick accents, Khairul Anwar had one more challenge - the recipes he received were all in French!
In addition to having to learn a new language, Khairul Anwar related that he also learned new techniques, which took him a month just to master.
“This particular ingredient - kaffir lime leaves. It took me a month just to get used to slicing it thinly. It was not easy. It needed to be thinly sliced because it was served as a garnish for the guests, and it had to be easy to chew.”
Khairul Anwar shared with us that the reason why techniques and knowledge about food is so important is for one crucial reason - to maintain the standard of the restaurant. The pressure from the chefs is immense, but you cannot repeat the same mistake twice.
It’s clear to see Khairul Anwar’s passion in his profession, and he expresses that it is a dream of his to open a fine-dining restaurant selling fusion cuisines - malay dishes infused with different french techniques that he has been equipped in. Even while he describes the injuries he sustained from work, or the challenges that the chefs have to go through in this line of work, it is evident that being a chef is what keeps Khairul Anwar going in life.
“It’s a very rewarding job. It takes a lot of passion and hard work. Not only that, you need to be mentally and physically strong. But as a chef, you make people happy. You don’t even meet them and you are able to make them happy.”
To know more about Khairul Anwar’s journey as a chef and his experience working in a fine-dining restaurant, be sure to tune in to Episode 6 of Let’s Talk!