When it comes to working in the food industry, there are plenty of career options that go beyond working in a standard kitchen.
Insider Guides spoke to three international Le Cordon Bleu graduates who are thriving in the field and treading their own path. From working in Michelin-starred restaurants and starting a popular business, to cooking for Prince, no two chefs’ stories are the same.
With a background that includes working at Michelin-starred restaurants in his home country of Taiwan and opening his own business – Yummy Puff Patisserie & Café – on Melbourne’s busy Chapel Street, Ming-Ting has found the perfect way to blend his passion for food with an entrepreneurial mind.
His hospitality journey started at a young age. He worked at his grandfather’s Szechuan restaurant and studied at a Taiwanese culinary school at a high school level. When it came to the future, though, Ming-Ting struggled to find the right place to undertake his tertiary education.
“I couldn’t find a good culinary school to get a diploma or degree. My friends told me, ‘Taiwan is too small, just go overseas and have a look,’” he says.
Fortunately, Le Cordon Bleu representatives visited Ming-Ting’s school, and he decided to move to Australia in 2000 to complete his culinary education at the institute. “I knew I would gain international knowledge from Le Cordon Bleu. It’s a worldwide institution that is well-recognised.”
Starting in Adelaide, Ming-Ting undertook a language course before travelling to Sydney to commence Le Cordon Bleu’s Grand Diplôme (Cuisine and Pâtisserie).
“I studied Cuisine and Patisserie together – normally people will separate the two courses,” he says. “I went to school six days a week, as well as working in the evenings to gain experience.”
Graduating in 2004 with a Dux Award and scholarship, Ming-Ting then travelled to Adelaide again. This time, it was to study Le Cordon Bleu’s Bachelor of Business (International Restaurant and Catering Management). He then went to Taiwan for military service, and to work in Michelin-starred restaurants and teach at a culinary school. Finally, he decided to return to Australia, where he opened Yummy Puff.
“I started a patisserie restaurant in Melbourne because the city needed it – it was difficult to find light and easy-to-eat cakes,” he says. “My shop is a fusion – Asian-style food mixed with French techniques.”
Yummy Puff has been open for almost five years now, and Ming-Ting and his partner are constantly evolving the way they work to make sure the café stays on-top of trends. They also have big plans for the future: “We plan to open a central kitchen where we can provide wholesale to other cafés and restaurants. That way, we will have regular orders and the supply will be easy to control.”
For students looking to pursue their own culinary dreams, and maybe even open their own business, Ming-Ting offers this advice: “You have to join the industry for at least a few years. Once you graduate, you might be great at cooking and have the skills, but you still have to gain experience. Get a casual job or industry placement. Then, once you graduate you won’t be uncomfortable in the workplace. Join the industry as early as possible.”
In recent years, Justin has travelled across Taiwan, the USA, Belgium and France to gain more experience in the culinary world. However, his food journey started back in Sydney.
In 2001, at the age of 15, Justin and his family moved to Brisbane from their home in Taiwan. Upon graduating high school, Justin began studying hotel management. It was only while he was at university and working as a bakery kitchenhand that he realised his real passion was food. “I found that I liked doing pastry and baking more, so in my second year of uni I quit, and in 2009 I moved to Sydney.”
Commencing a Diplôme de Pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, Justin was thrust into the busy and exciting environment of culinary school.
“The courses are very intensive,” he says. “My diploma is a two-year course, condensed into nine to ten months. This is good for people who want to push themselves.”
While at Le Cordon Bleu, Justin was encouraged by the school to enter pastry competitions. The experience took him from Singapore to France, competing against other up-and-coming pâtissiers. Once his diploma was complete, Justin dedicated himself to working in the industry, developing his skills and experience in establishments across the world. Finally, in 2015, he moved back to Brisbane. Here, he opened The Whisk Fine Patisserie, which specialises in incredible croissants.
“I found there wasn’t much French patisserie in Brisbane, but we didn’t expect to be so busy. Even now, we sell out everything by lunchtime,” he says. “When we started, we would open at 7am and be sold out within two hours. We can’t keep up with the demand in Brisbane!”
Justin plans to look for a bigger kitchen so he can share his pastry delights with a larger audience. He says opening your own business in Australia is a smart move.
“It’s always a good goal to open up your own business. You’re creating more opportunities for people to work – it’s good for Australia and good for the people. There’s a lot of opportunities in Australia for growth.”
From the courthouse to the kitchen, Leonardo decided to give up his legal career in his native Brazil and start anew in the food industry in Australia. He says it was an exciting and rewarding challenge.
“I was doing an internship, working with a judge at the top of his career. There was nothing above his position. I looked at him and I thought, that’s not what I want for me. If that’s the top, that doesn’t excite me at all. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that wasn’t my future.”
The culinary arts were prominent in Leonardo’s life, as his father had a background as a food writer, critic and cook. So, Leonardo began basic cooking classes and soon decided he wanted to become a chef. “My dad said that if I wanted to be a chef, I’d have to go to Le Cordon Bleu.”
As Leonardo wasn’t keen on moving to Paris, he researched Le Cordon Bleu campuses across the world before settling on Sydney. He moved to the harbourside city in 2014.
“Moving there was very scary in the moment – I’d never been that far from Brazil,” he says. “When I arrived, I didn’t know anyone and it was a challenge. But, it was good for growing – not only as a chef but as a person.”
In studying a Diplôme de Cuisine (Commercial Cookery), Leonardo had to undertake work placement. By chance, this began his long history of working with some of the best chefs in the world. His placement working for famed Australian chef Matt Moran turned into a job, and after only a year, Leonardo was running events. He cooked for the late singer Prince, a former USA vice president, and culinary icon Massimo Bottura while enjoying life in Sydney.
“I was living in Manly, so I loved going diving and snorkelling,” he says. “If I was starting work at 10 or 11am, I would go for a swim before work. This relaxed lifestyle was my favourite thing about Sydney.”
After a few years, Leonardo and his fiancé moved to Adelaide. It was there that he began working at the award-winning restaurant, Orana, then as head chef for Virgin Airlines’ Business Class. Now, he works at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in catering and food safety management (HACCP).
“The thing I love most about being a chef is creating different things. Law was the same every day, but in cooking, every day is completely different.”
Leonardo is already thinking about the future. He plans to open his own restaurant in Adelaide, inspired by Australia’s native ingredients.
“These days, all the Australian restaurants based on native ingredients are fine dining and very expensive,” he says. “I want to make it a bit more casual and accessible for everyone, because Australia is so rich with ingredients.”
For students looking to study abroad, Leonardo offers his simple philosophy: “I’d rather regret the things that I did, than the things I didn’t. If you want to study in a different country, just do it.”