Rayner Chua – Flipping The Mid-Career Switch with Gusto!

At 27, armed with a Bachelor Degree in Business Management and the gift of the gab, Rayner Chua should have been set for life as a marketing executive. A few rounds of job hopping soon drove home the realisation that he was ill-suited for a desk bound job and a greater calling was drawing him into the kitchens.

Currently serving internship at SHATEC’s Production Kitchen as part of his training under WSQ Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts, Rayner took a respite from bending over hot stoves to share with us his decision for a career switch.

“It (F&B) is an industry where having a relevant qualification will be useful as there will always be job opportunities for the skill sets I learn. The future here is dynamic, teeming with limitless possibilities. There will always be demand for chefs, be it in hawker centres, cafés or bistros. People need to eat and especially Singaporeans, we LOVE to eat!” said Rayner.

Changing career focus from business management to culinary is not an easy decision to make and many have made the move in a moment of heated passion only to have second thoughts when the novelty is replaced by realities of hot kitchens and long hours. For Rayner, however, the decision is the product of calculated considerations and logical analysis of the job market.

“Passion will easily fade once you go into the kitchen if you are unable to endure the hardships,” mused Rayner with a laugh. “But I agree I have strong interest in cooking which is the catalyst for me to make the switch.”

Rayner’s father made the first move encouraging the son to take up a professional course in culinary arts as he observed Rayner enjoy cooking at home. “He told me that since I took a liking towards cooking, I can make a living out of it,” said Rayner. It didn’t take long for him to put his father’s encouragement into thought with a walk-in application.

Despite his age, Rayner felt there wasn’t much of a difficulty fitting in with his younger classmates. As the class is largely male dominant, he could see the difference in maturity between students who have completed National Service (NS) and those who have not, even though the age gap is narrow. Generally, post-NS students tend to be more level-headed and exercise more self-initiative in problems solving, whereas the pre-NS group tend to be reliant on the trainers.

“In terms of training, the level of expectation is the same for all trainees regardless of age. My age does not give me seniority over my younger peers in the kitchen. I still have to prove my skills and my ability to manage my responsibilities just as anyone else. I have learned a lot here and I am still learning every day,” said Rayner.

Thus far, Rayner has enjoyed his culinary journey, especially his current stint with SHATEC’s Production Kitchen. He explained that his role is similar to that of a Sous Chef in a commercial kitchen, albeit on a relatively smaller scale.

“My role includes assisting Chef Naim, the trainer-in-charge of Production Kitchen. I am also responsible for overseeing tasks assigned to my junior schoolmates who are in their practicum. When Chef Naim is occupied with the operations for our Training Restaurant, I will step up to coordinate the production of breakfast sets and bentos.”

To execute his duties well, Rayner must work well with a team of approximately 10 and be familiar with the daily menus before sending food to the school’s in-house cafeteria – Backyard.

“On a daily basis, we have to prepare 25 Western bento sets, 20 Asian breakfasts comprising of beehoon and porridge items. We also serve cold sandwiches and other savoury favourites such as tacos burritos and finger foods. In contrast, there are fewer choices on the lunch menu, but larger quantities are required. After we are done with lunch service, we will prepare for mise en place for the next day,” says Rayner. As the head chef’s first assistant, he also assist to check the inventories for stocks that are running low and list ingredients needed for the next few days.

“The learning experience is definitely very different from that of big kitchens in hotels,” shared Rayner. “But I enjoy the proximity of working in a smaller kitchen. Chef Naim gives everyone fair opportunity to learn something new and different every week. We can learn from our mistakes in a more controlled environment and we also get to be creative as we are encouraged to suggest recipes or even a whole new menu. Chef Naim helps us with experimentation and gives us feedback before we launch our creations for sale at the Backyard.”

When asked about his future career path, Rayner revealed plans to work at cafes or bistros which will allow him to apply skills he acquired during his internship at SHATEC Production Kitchen. “I have learned about managing and coordinating people to ensure smooth workflows in a kitchen. I also learned to understand food trends and customer behaviours so that we can forecast a suitable amount of food to prepare in order to reduce wastage and food cost,” said Rayner.

To people who are considering a mid-career switch, Rayner advises them to first understand what they truly want and be clear of their ultimate goal.

When you know what you want, you will flip the switch with 100% dedication. You will not allow yourself to fail.”

Rayner recounted hectic moments at the production kitchen and having to report for work especially early to start breakfast service. He feels one should never give up no matter how tough the situation may be.

“Whatever doesn’t break you, will make you,” cites Rayner. “You simply learn to like your job and enjoy the rest of the journey.”

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