Are you interested in carving a niche for yourself in the vibrant food and beverage (F&B) industry in Singapore? We speak with Tryson Quek, chef de cuisine at Anti:dote, Fairmont Singapore and The Stamford Brasserie, Swissôtel The Stamford, to find out what it takes to make the cut.
1. Grit and Willingness to Learn are Key to Success
Leave your ego at the door, there is no room for it in the kitchen! Tryson says some of the key attributes that he looks for in jobseekers and trainees are perseverance and a willingness to learn, and he ranks these above the technical skills and qualifications that a candidate might have.
Kitchen life can be tough at times, and Tryson admits that he has faced his fair share of hardship during his initial years as a trainee. Fresh from school at the age of 17 with no work experience, he adapted to a new working environment through sheer grit and determination.
During his initial year as a trainee, Tryson recalls having difficulty going home to Woodlands, as he used to finish after midnight and could not afford a cab on his meagre income. For the first six months, he was also not allowed to cook and was only assigned tasks such as washing vegetables and cleaning the kitchen.
It was often frustrating, but Tryson says that was the norm in kitchens in the past. “It is much easier for trainees to enter the F&B industry now, he adds, as “chefs are more willing to teach them due to a shortage of manpower.”
This is why Tryson believes that as long as applicants have passion and a willingness to learn, career progression in this industry is not hindered by a lack of experience or qualifications. In fact, both of his current leading staff members in Anti:dote and The Stamford Brasserie were once students who entered the industry fresh out of school, despite having zero experience, and were hired because of their eagerness to learn.
Tryson notes that it is also easier for chefs to teach trainees now, as they can make use of information on the internet in addition to more traditional methods.
2. Build Up Your Soft Skills
While technical skills are not a must-have, having a strong set of soft skills such as a positive attitude and good communication skills is ideal for an F&B job.
“I think to work in a kitchen, you need to be a people person,” Tryson says. This is especially so as more and more restaurants adopt the interactive, open kitchen concept, where customers may expect chefs to talk to them. Tryson says that he also encourages his staff members to talk to guests and share recommendations with them.
3. Be Prepared and Ready
Being unprepared is one of the top mistakes interviewees make, says Tryson, such as not having researched the company that is hiring.
When it comes to interviews, certificates and résumés are often set aside as he likes to chat with his interviewees and find out what they know about his restaurants, as well as their thoughts on how they can help to improve the business. “If they have not done research beforehand, they will fail,” he states.
That said, resumes still play an important role in the job application process — so it’s important you tailor your resume to the job description, leave out unnecessary information and always be professional. The language in some of the resumes Tryson has come across is sometimes more suitable he says for a Facebook profile rather than a job application.
Body language and enthusiasm are critical too. Tryson recalls that one candidate whose resume appeared impressive was eventually rejected as he had spent the entire interview slouched over the table and replying in a couldn’t-care-less manner.
In addition, a typical day in the F&B industry often lasts 12 to 14 hours, and jobseekers should be prepared for this. Of course, there may be days when work may end earlier. Tryson explains: “Let’s say business is slow, so you come in at maybe 9am and finish work at 6pm — then it is family day.”
4. Upgrade Yourself — and Not Just Technical Know-How
“Every job needs to involve some form of personal upgrade somehow,” says Tryson. He speaks from experience: after working in the kitchen for a few years, he decided to further his education by pursuing an advanced diploma in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. Now, almost a decade later, the ardent learner has picked up graphic design.
“Upskilling in this industry, to me, is not limited to just learning how to bake or cook; you can upgrade yourself by picking up drawing, photography or brushing up your communication skills. At the end of the day, you can still use it in your life,” he explains. For example, staff members with an artistic streak can help to design the menu, while shutterbugs can help out with food photography!
5. Know What You Want, Short-Term Rewards or Long-Term Growth
Ultimately, it still boils down to knowing what you want — are you interested in working for a hotel F&B establishment or a private restaurant? One of the key reasons Tryson currently has difficulty hiring staff is because of the common misconception that hotels pay less than private restaurants. But that is not accurate, he says, as the monthly salary offered by private restaurants may be less due to the lack of welfare benefits or 13thmonth bonus. “During interviews, I actually spend a lot of time talking to candidates about dollars, calculating everything out for them.”
Working in a hotel may even provide more room for growth and creativity, says Tryson. “One part of my job is to give my staff opportunities, sending them for competitions, courses and cross-training, as well as bringing in chefs from across the world so they can experience different techniques and skills,” he says.
A programme he started, Cross Training, allows staff members from various F&B outlets within the Swissôtel family in Singapore to train and work in other outlets temporarily to pick up new skills, as each outlet requires different skill sets. The Stamford Brasserie, for example, features more straightforward cooking and is a good training ground for people who have no experience, while Anti:dote requires a better understanding of food and advanced skills.
Jobseekers may also be put off joining the F&B industry due to the misconception that working in a kitchen is “dirty”. “There’s a shortage of manpower across the industry because a lot of people think that kitchen life is so oily, greasy and dirty. That can’t be true; our National Environment Agency is so strict!” he jokes.
Above all, Tryson advises jobseekers to be positive and enjoy the moment. “If you are entering the F&B industry with interest and passion, nothing can stop you,” he says with a smile.