AlumniSavouring Success as a Private Chef and Sommelier

Food has always been a big part of DCT alumni Zachary Tay’s life.

Growing up, in Singapore, Zach was looked after by his grandmother when both his parents went to work. Whilst his classmates were busy completing their homework after school, Zach often found himself in the kitchen with his grandmother, preparing food for dinner.

During his time in Switzerland, Zach started learning about the wine culture in Europe. His interest continued to grow after graduation and he soon found himself as a Chef Sommelier for Les Amis, highly regarded as one of the pioneers of Singapore’s fine-dining scene that also houses one of the finest wine cellars in Asia. During his time with Les Amis, Zach was awarded the Bodegas Torres Wine Scholarship by World Gourmet Summit (WGS) in 2008 and at WGS 2011, he was nominated as a Finalists for Sommelier of the Year award. Today, Zach runs a successful business as a private Chef and Sommelier, and is continuing to follow his dream of marrying his love for food and passion for wine.

 

“Wine to me is an ingredient that completes a dining experience. Food and wine on its own as individual elements are great, but the magic happens when they come together.”

 

Why did you decide to become a private Chef and Sommelier?
What really drew me was the endless creative opportunities and constant room to play. At a restaurant, regulars usually return for a specific dish and it becomes difficult to take those favourites off the menu. I love that as a private chef, each event can be an entirely new creative venture and I can connect with the people I cook for on a more intimate level. The flexible schedule also allows me to catch a break from work when I need to. I can work on a project intensively for three to four days and then take a couple days off to recuperate before the next event.

What was your first experience working in a professional kitchen like?
I was hired as a Commis Cook at one of the top hotels in Singapore, on an intern’s salary as I didn’t have any experience working in a professional kitchen. My first month on the job was entirely spent washing vegetables. I basically worked up the rung, and my thirst to learn something new everyday kept me motivated to continue. Eventually I felt like I wasn’t progressing at a pace I liked and my friends and chef mentors suggested I pursue a higher education in culinary arts and that’s how I ended up enrolling at DCT.

 

“Studying Culinary Arts in Switzerland is an experience that I will always cherish. Executive Chef Instructor Patrick Diethelm not only expanded my knowledge on food but he also taught me important lessons in professionalism and having the right attitude to succeed.”

 

How did you parents react to your decision to study culinary arts in Switzerland?
As a teenager I was often fickle minded and had a tendency to change my mind about what I wanted to do. So naturally they were very hesitant to send me to Switzerland initially. It took me a good six months to convince them that I was serious about building my career in the culinary world.

What do you hope to achieve in the next three years?
I don’t really have a career plan as such, but when the time is right, I’d like to open my own restaurant.

I also hope that by sharing my experience, I can in some way contribute to changing the perception some parents may have about their children pursuing a career in F&B. Not everyone wants to become a doctor or an engineer and cooking is not something that can be automated. It’s a craft to understand how produce and ingredients work and I hope to see the F&B scene in Singapore flourish with more local talents honing their skills in this field.

Any advice for aspiring young chefs?
I’d like to pass on an advice that Chef Patrick gave to me.

 

“A qualification in culinary arts is a springboard to your career. As much as we want to climb the ladder of success quickly, we should not jump the gun and instead learn the basics first. You’re not going to be a Head Chef straight out of school. You need to understand operations, human resources, public relations and other aspects about F&B operations before you can run a successful restaurant on your own.”

 

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