7 things we learnt from Chef Nicholas Loo of Four Seasons

This is a guest post contributed by Jasmine.

With over twenty years of culinary experience, Chef Nicholas of the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore shares with us some his most memorable experiences working in kitchens over the years.

He gives insights into what it’s like to be in the F&B industry and his thoughts on upskilling to be future-ready.

1. You can start from zero experience and work your way up – if you have passion

Chef Nicholas started at the tender age of 15, leaving school and working his way up.

His first foray into the industry was when one of his uncle’s, who was a chef at a country club, roped him in to help out at the kitchen.

From there, Chef Nicholas took on various openings in other restaurants before joining Four Seasons in 2003 and working his way up to a Sous Chef, cooking up delights in the renowned Jiang-Nan Chun Chinese restaurant.

Inspired by the growth he has enjoyed in the industry and the passion he has developed, Chef Nicholas also currently mentors and trains several younger cooks.

2. You learn something new at every stage in your career

Image: NTUC This Week and E.T Studio

He picked up his knife skills from another hotel in the early days of his career, where he learnt how to utilise different knives and how to slice ingredients in different techniques.

At another restaurant stint, he picked up how to manage and plan the orders flowing in and track which orders had been served.

His working experience as a steamer was also where he honed the ability to process dry seafood so that it would be ready to cook.

He stressed that at every stage, he tried to learn something new that he could put towards building his holistic culinary expertise.

3. His worst injury was burning his eyebrows off

Chef Nicholas related an experience that happened at another F&B establishment before he joined the Four Season Hotel Singapore. He was working as a steamer in his early years and there was a gas leakage that he was not aware of.

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When he tried to light up the stove, the gas ignited and he burnt off his eyebrows. Thankfully his eyes were not harmed in any way but he was eyebrow-less for a while.

4. Sometimes you have to do things on the job you don’t like

When he was first starting out, the restaurant he was working at was having a promotion for a fish dish and every 2 days, he had to prepare 60-70 fish for the dishes.

He shared that he wanted to cry because of the sheer numbers and being overwhelmed but he trudged through instead.

Chef Nicholas concluded that at the end of the experience, although it was hard, he learnt a lot, perfected certain skills, became more patient and it was worth it.

5. A positive attitude will help you overcome challenges

The kitchen environment is hot and stuffy and yet everything moves at a fast pace.

Chefs stand for hours on end and sometimes newcomer cooks engage in very routine work (chopping up 100 carrots or peeling sacks of potatoes).

Festive periods sometimes mean that more kitchen staff are required and this may mean many might not get to spend these festive holidays (like Chinese New Year or Christmas) with their family.

Having a passion for the food industry and a positive attitude will help overcome all these challenges.

6. Willingness to learn is a big plus

Being eager and willing to learn is a big plus as it is imperative that chefs constantly upgrade their skills.

As a union member for over 20 years, Chef Nicholas first heard about the SkillsFuture Study Award from his union – the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers’ Union (FDAWU). FDAWU president Julia Cheong recommended him for the award which would help him defray training costs of up to $5,000.

While Chef Nicholas was worried he would not meet the minimum academic pre-requisites, FDAWU worked with the relevant agencies to help him overcome those obstacles.

Backed by Four Season Hotel Singapore, which granted him leave to attend classes, he went onto acquire his Diploma in Culinary Arts. In an age of disruption and innovation across many sectors, Chef Nicholas also expressed interest in embracing technology and picking up new skills that would help future-proof his job.

At NTUC’s recent National Day Observance Ceremony, Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing stressed that unions have to offer different kinds of support to meet evolving needs of the workforce.

Training is key as companies restructure for greater productivity and leaner manpower with the intensified disruption.

Unions should work with workers on optimising SKillsFuture initiatives and take up courses that would put them in a better position for future jobs. This thinking is also what Chef Nicholas subscribes to as he continually upgrades his skill sets.

7. One big family

While there are challenges, these are far outweighed by opportunities and benefits, Chef Nicholas quips that the kitchen staff are all a big family.

In a busy kitchen they rely a lot on trust, pulling long hours together and because of that, are all close and celebrate birthdays with each other.

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Feature Image: NTUC This Week and E.T Studio

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