The art of baking and culinary education in Malaysia

mib/ January 9, 2017/ Baking, Culinary

History of Malaysian baking and Culinary

Give a man a loaf of bread, and he will eat for a day: teach a man the knowledge of baking and his prospect will be brighten considerably. That at least was the concept for school leavers who were less academically excelled, say, 20 years ago. The pursuit of culinary education were almost unheard in a nation obsessed with building a modern economy. But with new media influences and glamorization of culinary art, baking courses are no longer a frivolous matriculation. They too have become a competitive edge.

The Malaysian academics have always favoured tough engineering and the hard science, if not the sterling business degree, it is no surprise that the workforce is saturated with graduate of such background. The current economic down turn is granting a growing number of young high school graduates (and some parents) to explore arts and culinary courses long appreciated in the west but relatively disregarded in Malaysia. These days, we see many college and institution producing the industrial bakers, cake decorators and chefs that the food and beverage industry needs as it gradually moves from borrowing foreign ideas to setting our own standard and identity.

“The Malaysia baking style is much influenced by western theory blended with Japanese and Taiwanese skills. Students need to create an identity to fit in the industry, they need to be able to create a demand for themselves,” says Donald Chin, a chef baker at Malaysian Institute of Baking (MIB) at PJ, a specialist in the baking of bread and in patisserie. “Japanese and Taiwanese styled bakeries as their new hype now: the Japanese have their own interpretation to classic European. Nevertheless, European is still the leader in artisan bread.” Thanks to years of research in baking science with skills, they called it the science of baking.

Such revolution is already well underway in the classroom of Malaysian Institute of Baking; the system here exhorts students to “approach baking in the angle of science” and is expanding academics program in the science of baking. The air in the practical class room is sweet, buttery and yeasty, heavy with the heat of baking and the noise of bread-making machineries. With 600 breads and pastries being produced everyday, and over 200 students in practical, how else would it smell? The students gathered in the practical classroom on the first floor of the school, visible from the exterior of MIB bakery, they spent much of the day scurrying among floors, sugar, butter and yeast. The students include young high-school graduates, professional bakers taking refreshes courses and even hobbyists, all potentially part of a new generation of pastry chefs.

One of the students, Aisya, 24, says she has always wanted to be a baker. After high school, she took up 4 years of accounting course. Now that she has done what her parents suggested, Aisya, who loves cake and baking and decoration, has joined MIB’s diploma in baking science and technology hoping to polish her skills.

“I love baking cakes,” Aisya said. “People like my signature cakes, I have been baking wedding cakes for years now, but I want to learn more. They teach the theory and science here, which you do not really get out of recipe books. It makes baking more interesting as you understand the science behind it.”

The baking industry, a thriving piece of Malaysia food and beverage industry that employs thousands of bakers, has been expanding ever since the 80’s, the demand  for handmade bread has surged in the country as more fancy boutique bakeries have made their appearance and as more people prefer soft rich bread over factory-made loaves.

The Malaysia Institute of Baking, situated just across MBPJ, previously known as English Hotbreads School of Baking is expected to produce 100 prospective bakers a year. The institution is working with the City & Guilds International, London to grant the graduates a Diploma in Patisserie & Advance Diploma in Culinary Arts (Majoring in Patisserie Studies). These are value-added external qualifications to their own home-grown programme – The Diploma in Baking Science & Technology. According to the institution’s senior manager, Mr. Vera, the institution has produced over 2000 bakers so far. Employers like hotels or chains bakeries have begun recruiting directly from the institution. To qualify for the recruitments, students must complete 22 months of classes plus 6 moths of internship.

Until recently, anyone who choose baking or any skills oriented profession, typically are students who did not excel in technical subjects like science or commerce, or were high school drop outs. But as some students in MIB can already surmise, baking courses are viewed in a positive light. As the CEO of MIB, Don Yong put it, “Parents now are a lot more receptive tot soft science and fine art, every year we have applicants who do extremely well in their SPM and I have to personally advise them to think twice about not going ahead with medicine.

To broaden people’s view point on the baking profession, Mr. Don Yong says the institute’s mission is to become a centre for acquiring knowledge and up-to-date skills in the field of professional baking. In the past, when baking class was conducted, students did as instructed, it was all about adding flour, yeast and water, knead it and you get bread! It is not the same case now. It’s not just the institution that is being reengineered, students themselves are being offered new, unconventional learning experience. For example, students can now study subjects ranging from fermentation of bread to advanced pastries, advance sugar craft and science of baking and even computing and quality management subjects. And we also make sure that food safety and hygiene education have been integrated into their curriculums.

Despite all these, creativity is the trumping factor. Donald Chin, a former MIB graduate who was recently appointed as a lecturer after returning from further study in Taiwan, says “creativity is still the greatest stimulus to the students. When I think about the endless technique and the aesthetic dimension of Japanese influenced baking, I am sure I will be able to deploy them in my teaching. I can imagine the student anticipation of another great formula!”

Such esoteric interest could be a subtle reformation; Donald was trained the European way of bread making but choose to further his education in the art of Asian pastry, and he is going to combine Asian baking discipline with Western technique. The CEO Don Yong, an avid avid baker himself, who won several awards, including the prestigious American Institute of Baking Outstanding Graduate Award and is also an award- winning author of the book Bread Winners believes that students will profit from the combination of such East-meets-West theory. “Ultimately, baking is very universal, we will educate the students from a micro level. We explain things scientifically, for example, not a lot of research is done on why Chinese pastries are called water-oil dough, why are steamed-buns soft or why Japanese breads require a different kneading technique; the students know the technique well but the supporting theories remain rare.”

The idea is to give students more freedom in choosing their careers without being confined to only certain specifications and job scope. Back in MIB, Ow Yi Jin, who just turned 20 this year, joined the institute with not only her strong passion in baking, but what amazed her fellow course mates and even her teachers was her stellar performance in her SPM. “At present we have students with great achievements as far as 5-7. As, what does make me ponder, however, is the question of how to advise a 10As science-streamed students on what to do with her life,” says Donald. By the standards of Yin Jin, she belongs to the hard science type, maybe doing medicine or engineering, “that’s what my parents wanted me to do initially. But, in here, we learn a lot about science too, fermentation is also science and it is not rigid, it’s creative science!” says Yi Jin.

Students will have to be in class lecture in an air-conditioned conference room on the second floor, where Don Yong helps review various bread formulas and discuss the topic of the day. These include topics like the formation of gluten from glutenin and gliadin, the chemical leavening properties in cake and pastry, fermentation science and so forth.

In the face of increased competition from other colleges, MIB has manage to adapt to the industry’s requirements and its institution maintains its position as the leader in baking. CEO Don Yong believes that they not only focus on baking, but also on management, computing, leadership & communication which eventually would enable graduates to successful run their own business. The institute has gone as far as incorporating online branding & setting up of websites in their curriculum. Apart from that, they have also integrated sugarcraft technique using sugar paste & Japanese clay modelling, fruit carving, ice carving, fine dessert etc, which lead to effective food presentation, all taught by award winning chefs. That’s what give them the edge to compete. Over the years, students have been reviewed on their academics performance; one course work most student excel in is the subject of art. We need to foster their talents so they too deserve the industry’s esteem.

– MIB Creative Team