Featured Alumni: Tham Wai Leong, Mervin – The Genuine Spirit
1) What was your background before you joined SHATEC in April 2012?
I finished my ‘O’ levels but did not manage to obtain good grades so I went on to ITE for three years before serving National Service. Thereafter, I took up the Diploma in Pastry and Baking in SHATEC and completed my internship at Raffles Hotel Singapore.
2) Share with us some of your memories as a student at SHATEC.
I was given a lot of opportunities by my trainers to stretch myself, especially from Chef Samson and Chef Zavier. I was appointed as class representative of my class and it helped prepare me for a working life in many ways. It was no longer about being a student but about being responsible and accountable for others as well. I was also handpicked by my chef to help out as an assistant at one of the learning journeys hosted by SHATEC. It was an eye-opening experience and it sparked my interest in teaching.
The main challenge to me at that time, as a class rep was about people management. It was really tough as everybody is unique and has different expectations! It took time and energy trying to listen, understand, work with and around everyone. There were daily persuasions, negotiations and compromises to be made in order to make interpersonal relationships work. It didn’t help that my “jolly” character gave many classmates the initial impression that I do not take things seriously. The actual fact was, I ponder over many issues frequently.
3) What were your plans back then after graduating from SHATEC?
After completing my course in SHATEC, I went to Vivarch International where I taught pastry for around two years. Besides teaching in the day, I also did some public relations work for corporate events in the evenings and at night, I worked as a service staff at a pub. I was hoping to earn extra money through these part time jobs to start up my own café.
My opportunity came one day when my boss from the pub I was working at invited me to run a café opened by one of his investors. I joined them as a pastry chef. My original plan was to make sure the café runs well and to stay put there. However, I soon realised there were a lot of other business issues I had to consider besides kitchen work. For example, I had to handle public relations, deal with marketing and segmentation as well as work with the management. Marketing was one of my chief weaknesses then. While I was there I also thought of pursuing a career as a cabin crew with Singapore Airlines. Somehow, I never managed to get through the final round of interview which coincidentally, always fell on the day after my night shift! I was always tired and my command of English was not as good back then. After 7 months, I decided to venture out with my own café instead.
6) Share with us about your current career as a management trainee – How did you land on this job and what are the challenges you face along the way?
The Management Trainee Program that I am currently on is best described as a fast paced marathon – it is taxing on both the mind and body! Just like in every industry, people management is the most vexing and toughest to handle, it is no different in the hospitality industry. My college in Switzerland helped to refer this job to me. Like SHATEC, the school has an alumni network with very strong connections to the global hospitality industry. This gives us a sense of security as we do not have to worry about difficulties in securing a job in the future.
7) What are the career goals you have set for yourself and how do you plan to achieve them? Are there any plans to return to the pastry profession?
I would like to achieve as much as possible within the best of my abilities. My goal is to be a duty manager in 2 years’ time. As for plans to return to the pastry profession, it will be part of my retirement plans. Hopefully, with my fingers crossed, I would be able to set up my own café again.
8) What advice do you have for SHATEC students?
Firstly, I think it is important to be true to yourself and follow your heart. Secondly, always give your most honest opinion as that is the one which will touch people’s heart, even though they may not always agree with you. When I go for interviews, I will not articulate “flamboyant” terms just to impress the interviewers. Instead, I will tell them something very genuine about myself and it had gotten me to where I am. Be genuine to yourself, first and foremost, and then to others. Hospitality is really all about being genuine. Treat others in exactly the way you would want to be treated.
9) If you were to prepare a pastry of choice to any of your SHATEC trainers, what would you serve, to whom and why?
It would definitely be the Opera Cake to Chef Zavier! It was one of the cakes I learned in SHATEC. I was so enthusiastic about the cake that I even modified the recipe into Baileys Opera Cake. For the butter, I changed the standard French meringue to Italian meringue as I like the taste of it and in a way, challenge myself with a little innovation. In fact, it became one of my signature cakes while I was running my own café.