Category Archives: Interesting

748 Hours Later ~ I Graduated. My Tributes…

This post is super long, I started and still not completed, but I am posting it or it continues to sit unpublished.  Then I will enjoy my weekend first …


About 20 weeks and 748 hours later … On 21 November 2008 I graduated with a Gold Award Diploma in Sous Chef de Patisserie. (It was also my Mum’s 62th Birthday over in Singapore on 22 November, Singapore being 14 hours ahead of US Central Time, Daylight Saving.)  Six of us were also awarded with The Steven K. Schultz Awards in recognition for Perfect Attendance.

Perfect Attendance.  As far as it is within my control, I will continue to maintain the base expectation of being early and being present.  As far as attendance goes, I had perfect attendance during my schooling years … it must have been my Mum, no missing of classes and there was no question about it, I was brought up to understand it should be so.  I drifted quite a bit during university years but I am glad it was just a short 3 years.

Attitude.  I enjoy the art of learning, the art of enjoying the present moments, and the works of nurture and inspirations.  I remained steadfast in my goal to learn and grow as an individual as well as to inspire growth in people around me.  I believe strongly in staying focused on positive perspectives, for things happened for great reasons in life.  As far as I am concerned, I hold strongly my respect for authority and my peers.  I got better over the years – I learnt to question,  I learnt to accept some decisions, I learnt to let go of my own opinions when they were not crucial or another suggestion made better sense, I learnt to give in when it meant making the other person happier without compromising the end results … I continue to be curious and enjoy learning from the individuals around me. 

Savour.  I am blessed to be here in Houston, even though I was leaving apart from my husband and my family for the past 20 weeks.  It is a gift I treasure a lot.  BK made it possible – he agreed to let me come, and encouraged me to pursue my dream.  It is almost unreal.  Truth be said – I enjoyed and valued my environment, the people I have come to know, and the lessons I learnt beyond the recipes.  Very few things or people bothered me, I accepted what happened, I learnt to take in, chew on it and some I let go, the great ones I held them close to my heart.

Friendship.  I made good friends in Houston – At the culinary institute, some Singaporeans I got to know in Houston, and from Houston Dessert Meetup Group.  To all I have come to know in Houston, I am thankful I got to know you in this part of the world and for some, I believe we will remain friends regardless of where we move on to.  I also accept that some are passer-bys in my life, nevertheless, they contributed to my life journey and played a role while I am here in Houston, and formed my memories.  I am also happy to meet Vivian and Lilian (thanks for hooking us up!) in Houston, have not met both for nearly 2 decades in Singapore.  For all my friends, as the saying goes 有缘千里来相会, 无缘见面也不知… if we are predestined to meet, we would travel great distance to meet and know each other, otherwise even when we meet face to face we would also not be acquainted.  How meaningful!


Graduation signifies the beginning of a new journey for me.  It is only a beginning.  I will continue with the same attitude I brought to Houston.  Dream.  Believe.  Love.  Inspire.


My Graduation Day ~ 21 November 2008,  Central Time

grad-display-with-gold-band_rim1My pix was taken at my graduation display table in the pastry lab, where I worked for the past 9 weeks (lost a week to Ike) – a corner in the back of the pastry lab.

The table display had my wedding cake, pastillage, sugar art, choc icing mousse cake, and choc box.



with-chef_rimMy Chef.  This is is my Level 2 & 3 Chef ~ Chef Philippe.  This is the first time his pix appeared on my journal entry.  And this was why

22 Nov 2008, PM

I just had a chat with my dad via skype earlier, he congratulated me on my graduation.  I told him I am going to finally post a picture of Chef Philippe on my journal entry, and he can get Pei San – my sis-in-law, to print out for him to see how my Chef looks like.  I told him Chef just gave his permission to publish his pix on my blog on my graduation day, my Dad laughed.  Weeks earlier when I just moved into level 2 Baking & Pastry Arts class, during my weekly skypeout update with Dad,  I told him I was “warned” by Chef Philippe not to post his picture on my blog or “you will get points deducted from your grades” … Then it was the evening of the Gala, 5 Sept 2008, I was to complete level 1 the following week and move to Chef Philippe’s Level 2 class.  For every week after that, Dad always asked how I was doing in Chef Philippe’s class and how was Chef that week.  Ha

Seriously, I didn’t think Chef Philippe was serious, but I did not post any.  😉

I enjoyed and learnt a lot from Chef Philippe’s class … I enjoy specific, exact, precise, detailed (do they all mean the same? hee …) methods of instruction… Chef was also watchful and observant to how we performed, and quick to be at our sides to rescue us, even though he expressed it differently in words.  In his class, I learnt to understand the hows and appreciate why I did them the way they were.  … I became more confident in choc and enjoyed choc (specifically mentioned choc coz my feel for it significantly changed and it got cleaner each time) … yes, all the cooking that required specific temperatures (eg vanilla sauce, choc icing), I managed so much better.  Like he said, we have a choice.  I chose to enjoy his sessions and appreciate him as an individual as well as my Chef. 

Every morning for the past weeks, Chef and Sandra drove me to the culinary institute, and back to my apartment on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  We live across the White Oak Bayou across each other ~ so they are my neighbours…  Pai seh (Chinese dialect, loosely translated ~ shy) … but I am really grateful for their thoughtfulness!

Through Chef Philippe, I got introduced to my first French teacher and gotta know another friend in Houston.  Merci beaucoup, Chef!


Also My Chef.  Chef Sebastien is my Level 1 Chef.  Never had a pix taken with him during my level 1 final as the finals ended abruptly on Day 2 instead of the usual 3 days, due to Ike.  There was no proper closure then.

Chef Sebastien integrated me (I speak for myself…) well into the introduction course at the culinary institute and got me to love and enjoy what I do and learn, and I got to make mistakes and learn from them… along the way, I laughed a lot and remained blur blur.

I remembered Chef Sebastien didn’t like sweet stuff and he is a Pastry Chef, I didn’t like sweet stuff too so I got some reassurance.  Nearing the end of my Level 1, he asked how many of the recipes I liked for the hundreds we had completed, … 4?  OK, now maybe more as my taste buds are changing  … he was “appalled” I only liked the taste of 4 recipes after all he had taught.  Ha.  I really enjoyed the taste of 4, but I could appreciate and memorize the tastes of the others.

Chef Sebastien gave me the reassurance and the calmness I needed that all is well, and would be well.  No words needed.

with-mr-lenotrePresident cum Owner.  I was researching online on culinary programs, read about LeNotre, then about Mr Alain LeNotre and his school in Houston, decided to enrol into CIAML, and was introduced to him during the school tour on my day 2 in Houston.  BK commented he spoke with a lot of passion, assertiveness and sincerity when we met.  

A week into the course, we had an orientation session with Mr LeNotre.  His advice was very practical and direct – he said matter of factly the Chefs in school are good and experienced Chefs, we should learn from them and find out about them and their motivations as much as possible and to do it now…, coz he accepted that they will not stay with the school forever.

About 5 weeks into my course, I blasted my blog address to my friends back home in Singapore and some parts of the world, Jean-Luc found out and soon I got called to Mr LeNotre’s office.  He rounded up our conversation with “Joy, my door is always open“.  I appreciate that he spoke with me, advised me and treated me like I am – a mature student.  I enjoyed his straight forward advice, and he was generous in sharing them.  Through his recommendation, I completed Leadership Lessons from A Chef.  Finding Time to Be Great by Chef Charles Carroll by week 5 of my course, and got started on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a title I knew more than 10 years ago but never got down to reading it … I started and this time I can appreciate what was written).  He had said Joy, you should read this, and I did.    

You should roll down your sleeves … Didn’t your chef ask you to roll down your sleeves? … He showed genuine concern when he noticed I had burnt marks and bruises on my arms … or maybe he was disgustedHa, I couldn’t help it sometimes I was really blur. 

Joy, you are too proper … during a chat we had on being upfront with my personal goals when working for establishments back home.  I remained so, indeed.  Still very proper.

with-chef-krisChef of Chefs.  I got to hear from Chef Kris in my Level 1 a lot, and I heard and appreciated every advice he gave.

Chef’s Topic on Misen Place, 7 July.  3 days into my course.  On preparedness of the mind, on preparedness to start the day.  To be on time means to be early.

Chef’s Club, 23 July.  2 weeks into my course, the first I volunteered.  I still remembered the purple cabbage in reduced red wine sauce, the forced meat and the garlic incident.  We had fun prepping, learning, and … taking lots of notes

Lessons on ServSafe, 4 & 6 August.  4 weeks into my course.  I dreaded sitting still, but my ears were up each time Chef shared his experience, and loads of them.  Even in the most awful working environment, I can learn good lessons of what nots and what I should do when I am in controlMore notes taking.  But his sharing also put me off eating certain food :~

In Pastry Lab Level 1, 27 & 28 August.  After feeling a little disoriented for day 1 due to cups and spoons, I enjoyed Chef Kris’s sessions and his cool and practical ways he confronted each situation.  He taught us to think recipes branching from a basic recipe, to be adaptable, to move it move it …

To the Chefs’ Office, 16 October.  A couple of days earlier, Chef asked if I have been updating my blog entry … it appeared it had been some time since I interacted with Chef Kris, but I realised it was due to Ike as school was disrupted for 2 weeks, and it was 2 weeks since lessons started proper.  Chef soon read my blog updates and I was called to see him regarding my career plan.  I still have not read the 3 books he advised me to.  I graduated but I will be seeing him on Monday for a discussion and complete my ServSafe certification.  I am committed to doing it, because he bothered to.


with-bkMy Buddy, My Hubby.  During my graduation day, I joked that I  finally gotta stand as tall as him.  Smile.  

BK has been constantly there for me … when I first came to Houston and totally disoriented – he made sure I got better in my directions; Then nearly everyday after, we updated each other how our day went virtually;  He was here so that we could celebrate his birthday and spend time together; Then my Graduation week, again he was here even though we were both pre-occupied, he was busy with work and I with Finals… and on my Graduation day, he was there for me every moment I needed him.  He made it so matter of fact, so unconditional…  I am really blessed, really really

He told me just a couple of days ago after he left Houston – he was speaking with someone about me being in Houston and he in Singapore – he wanted me to enjoy what I do, he knew for sure I am focus and I would be heading home to Singapore once I am done… for me, there is no doubt about it.   Like Sarah said about Charles, the same for BK, I would not give him up for the world.  Period.  Ha.


More about my pals later, I should stop somewhere and enjoy today.


Lessons from a Diamond Setter

I was reading at the bus stop, saw the bus turning about the corner … I stood up, and next it went past me?  My first reaction – my gosh.  My reaction the next second – I can continue to read and was to complete 2 chapters over the  1 1/2hr I was at the bus stop – I was too early and waited 40min for the bus that went past me, then another 40min for the next.

I had planned to visit another pastry outlet this weekend – to have a breather, relax over my book and have a dose of caffeine.  I planned to visit a Mexican bakery cafe, never been to one…   Outside the cafe, a hand written sign read that the cafe was closed for renovation and apologised for the inconvenience.  Oh?

Undeterred, I decided to go Empire Cafe instead.  It was crowded, I decided not to go in as I was looking for a comfortable place to nua (a.k.a. idle), to hibernate, be myself and read, and have my dose of caffeine.  A block down I found Agora – a Greek cafe or maybe more of a late night drinking place – it has outside seating, garden-like, with shrubs and trees creating a shade separating the road and the garden cafe.  The cafe doesn’t serve food, has a limited range of Greek pastry bites and coffee during the day, and drinks at night.  Anyway, I liked the spot outside.  Most of the people there were there alone having late morning breaks and a read, there were 2 ladies working on the laptop.

You want to have The New York Times?  I am done with it.”  A guy turned around and handed me the papers.  Thank you, I have a book with me.  “What are you reading?”   I was reading Food Jobs – 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers by Irena ChalmersWhat do you do?  Where are you from?  What did you do before?  What would you be doing when you go back to Singapore? etc.  At the end of our conversation 2 hours later, I finally learnt that he is Bertrand Clerc, a Swiss who adopted Houston, Texas as his home 15 years ago.  He is a diamond setter.  I did a google search on “bertrand clerc diamond“, … he was featured in Texas – Beyond the Alps – 8 Swiss Artists exhibition.  From the article, I read that there are 9 Swiss Artists known to the Swiss American Houston Society residing in Texas, and 8 of them agreed to participate in the exhibition,  “… each artist expresses him/herself in a very different way and yet, their work side by side, reminds us of the cultural wealth of the small country that is their home land.”  I checked out his work on the website of one of his clients “Ernesto Moreira”, … cool, simple elegance.  He asked me to view the Smith Gem Vault collection at the Houston Museum of Natural Science if I have a chance.

Geneva, nice place … why did you leave and make Houston your home?”  Because it is different living and visiting there.  The home town he described with explosive property prices reminded me of my own home in Singapore, coupled with high cost of living … Most do not own their own home in Geneva – a standard home cost about US$1.5mil Home prices were driven artificially high by expatriates brought in by MNCs.  He chose living the quality of life in Houston even though “Geneva has the alps“.

I like the term he used about “Qualified Hands” in his diamond cutting trade, what he described reminded me of the French chefs I know at the Culinary Institute.  Being great in their craft.  In Switzerland, their apprenticeship started between 16-18, for about 7 years or so … how familiar…  The current education system is not supporting the country’s needs for good craft-men, as most would go for their bachelors,  education is free and paid by taxpayers.

We spoke about his industry which I drew some learning as well.  I asked if he caters to direct clients, he does not.  He shared the factors to consider about doing wholesales or retail business ~

1.  Know your own character.  He prefers not to deal with customers who do not know the craft, and dislike the resulting headache in such discussion.  He deals with professionals in the trade.  Usually he would work with the designers in wholesales contracts.

2.  Retail dollars > Wholesales dollars.  Know what is the typical margin and volume for each plus overheads.  In wholesales, there is a constant flow of contracts, but be cautious of the risk of depending on a single big client.  He advised that for wholesales market in any industry, to consider saturation (if the market is accounted for by large players already) or if there is still room for entry.

How he charge clients depends on uniqueness and complexity of designs, and the estimated hours he would spend.  For some complex designs, he can only provide an estimate to the hours he would spend to complete the job. 

Food for thought.  We may arrange to meet again for late morning coffee on one of the few Saturdays I have left in Houston.


Reading my book and enjoying my second cup of coffee.  A guy had earlier recommended I try either Triple Bean Vanilla or Texan Pecan.  Good recommendation.  I have Triple Bean Vanilla for my first cup and Texas Pecan for the second.  These were the most flavourful coffee I have had in all the cafes I visited in the last 14 weeks (huh?  4 weeks have past for level 2 … my gosh.  Ike really made my time here fly faster).  I ordered a Baklava and Pistachio Caramel – both are very sweet and nutty.  The pistachio caramel tasted better with each bite, though I didn’t like it at first.  I didn’t get to finish it

Sir, you are making too much dust.  Do you have to do it now?”  The guy sharing my table said to the man sweeping the area.  He literally swept dust into the coffee, my leftover bites and onto the books we were reading … and I guess it should be all over us since my little note book was covered with a layer of dust.  A moment ago, I heard some rustling sound, and I thought the strong wind blew dust onto the book I was reading, I just dust it off, … then more… I looked up.  The same man was standing on the 2nd storey shelter opposite us, sweeping dried leaves and dust down the aisle, onto us.  I forgot about the coffee I just refilled, only remembered my book and brushed the dirt off – I do not like spots on my book.  Oh my coffee?  I looked in and there were some black spot floating in it.  I covered it with my little note book I had with me.  The guy sitting across me smiled and I guessed we decided to live with it then.  Then I guess it really got to us he continued sweeping the aisle.  Stirring up more dust, he replied “I am sweeping so that the wind does not blow dust towards you” … Oh, that was sincere and helpful??!!  I found it funny.  Anyway he completely ignored us, continued stirring more dust till he was done with sweeping the aisle pavement, mumbling to himself.  Other than the dust, the environment was conducive for late morning drink and a good read.

Felt better for the day.  Still recharging my battery.


Linda and George, the Singaporean couple we met a week earlier, had proposed lunch at Nonya Grill tomorrow and adjourned to their home at Pearland for desserts and coffee after.  Decided to give it a miss to continue recharging

A Play Dough “Mouse” From Pastry Lab

Too much to update for last 4 days.  There was something for everyday but I am lagging behind in putting them down.  I decided to update on a new addition to my “mouse” collection , firstly it is my passionate hobby …. secondly it happened during class today … thirdly my level 1 exam is next week if I don’t update now it will be never. 

I was born in the year of the Rat, my age is no secret.  In pastry classes, I am exactly one cycle older than Jillian and I just found out the same for Raffaela too.  Initially it was just a Chinese horoscope to me, every Rat year reminds me I am older in multiples of 12s.  Then in 1997 during my home renovation, when I started packing my stuff – while packing books onto bookshelves, I found 2 rat figurines among my mess…  these were to begin my lifelong hobby … and the bookshelves were never filled with books.  The first rat was a Selangor pewter figurine given to me by Katherine during my 15th birthday, the second was a wooden rat on wheel given to me by my high school friend XX when we passed through Czech during our Europe hols in 1995 … then the obsession, no, it should be fascination, continued.

(continued after I dozed off…)

Every country I visited the must-have souvenir I would attempt to bring back Home is a rat/mouse or more mice.  They must be made of different materials from what I already have, must have a tail and cannot look like Mickey Mouse.  In the last 3 years, I moved out of family home to a rented apartment when I got married and again this March to a home we now have, my rats and mice are still waiting patiently to get out of their plastic bound in the sealed boxes.  When I get home, it is time they get some “air time”.   I have wanted for a long while to photograph each of them, name their country of origin as well as the year I started owning them or from whom I received them as gifts, but 10 great years and more than 170 precious babes later, I really lost track of some of them.

On Tuesday when Sarah, April and I were reviewing through the Level 1 in prep for the exam next week … we had a few recipes left that we skipped through as “not done”.  I came across Bread Decorating Dough and I was thinking of having mice/rats made of bread dough.  The next day, during the Pastry Lab, Chef Sebastien asked us to prep Bread Decorating Dough and Yeastless Dough … I was so excited.  At one point, during shaping of the Bread Decorating Dough after proofing, I must have stared at the dough so hard, Chef came over and looked at what happend.  Ha, nothing happened, I was mentally visualising how my little mice will look and where they would appear on the finished product.  That night, I drew how my mice will look.  I had wanted a standing one wearing an apron, holding to a spatula and a whisk.  On Thursday, we didn’t manage to have sufficient time for it as we completed the mise en place for the Scholarship Gala on Friday and prepared tiramisu for lunch.  That night I had more ideas for the mice.  On Friday morning, I told Sarah it is our last go to have all out fun at the dough before our level 1 final.  While we prepared the petit fours for evening Gala, Chef gave us all the time we have to play our dough.   He  reminded us it must have something to do with Baking.

Time to roll, mold, shape, press, cut, pipe … and lots of serious play and four hours later, our creation was finally completed.  Everyone has a story to their dough – Jill did a cute dragon with skeleton(?), Amanda on Elvis, Jennifer on her favorite record, April with a basket of breads on a checkered table cloth, and Sarah on viola, a musical instrument she played and Elizabeth made a jewellery box.  Some of us chose to have no break during class.  We baked our dough creation and cleaned up to leave for Houston Country Club at 2.  No chance to really take a good look at the final product, I got a quick shot before I left, and will have to take pictures of my classmates’ on Monday.  The play dough session already made my day. 

Some called my creation Ratatouille, I choose to have no name for it.  None of my mouse or rat in my collection has a name, except one which is a fluff on my facebook and it is called Rattarattie-joi.  Naming them would show a different level of complex emotional connection or even favortism, and more importantly my lack of creativity in names.  I love them all equally, though some of them are associated with deeper memories and meaning as they represented the places I travelled or the friendship I have with the friends and families who fed my fascination.

With a layer of vanish to preserve the dough, the play dough “mouse” will travel with me back to Singapore and shall represent a part of my baking & pastry arts journey in Houston.

Hey, I Can See Through the Peep Hole

“200g powdered sugar, 200g corn starch … 2 … cream of tartar …”  I was reading off the whiteboard in Level 3 Pastry Lab.  I was peeping through a little hole formed by the thumb and index fingers …

It was after class and after lunch, I was chatting with Jennie and Rafaella, both are in Pastry Level 3 class.  You lost your reading glasses?  Jennie asked.  No, I am just short sighted.  But yes, I misplaced my new pair and I just can’t find it, I crushed my existing pair in my tool bag, and the nose bridge piece dropped off and needed repair.  Most of the time I can’t see far, I can only make out the shape or outline of whoever or whatever is in front of me, sometimes I didn’t bother to see (oops), very selectively I can imagine what I see.  So don’t bother to smile at me if you are a distance from me, I told them.  Rather, you can smile at me but do not take offence if I don’t respond appropriately, and I tend to look rather serious when I don’t smile.  I told them whenever Chef Sebastien wrote on the board, I had to be up next to the board to read and copy them.  Once Chef Sebastien stood in front of me and asked, “Can you see me?”   Of course, Chef, I just can’t see details or words from far!

You can do this!  Raffaela said excitedly.  Raffaela is a sweet Brazilian lady, one of the 3 ladies from Level 3 Pastry.  She held her fingers to her face and formed a hole with her thumb and index finger.  Raffaela is short-sighted too but she can usually make out what Chef Philippe wrote in class.  I tried … ha it worked!  Erhh… you did this in front of Chef?  Oh no!  She explained that the class is small and they usually can see what Chef Philippe wrote on the white board.

I was so amused.  The words on the white board became readable to me just by peeping through the small hole.  The science of focused vision or the science of peeping?  No, I won’t be trying this in any of the chefs’ classes any time soon.


ps:  Please excuse me, Raffaela, I just have to post your pix as my keepsake coz I really find it very adorable – Raffaela was focusing on the peep hole and she did not realise her picture was being taken then.  Obrigada!  Azéharamo aypo-mia!