Interview with Nukcharee Sungkram, the pastry chef
Malaysian Nukcharee Sungkram, hung up her fashionable cabin crew outfit for a white starchy chef’s uniform after falling in love with the world of artistic sugar creation to become a pastry chef. We interviewed Nukcharee about her culinary masterpieces, embarrassing kitchen moments and study experience at Le Cordon Bleu, Australia.
Q: When did you realise that you have a knack for baking?
N: After I left the airlines, I took up baking classes and learned to decorate wedding cakes and figures. It was all for fun initially, but it just morphed into a full-blown passion and I knew there was no turning back. I started enquiring about culinary schools and decided to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney.
Q: What are your qualifications?
N: I have an Advanced Diploma of Hospitality in Professional Culinary Management Program (in Patisserie), a Certificate II in Hospitality Cuisine (Kitchen Operations), both from Le Cordon Bleu Sydney Culinary Institute and a Bachelor of Business (Hotel Management) from William Blue College of Hospitality Management Sydney.
Q: What did you learn on those courses?
N: What I learned in Le Cordon Bleu on my Patisserie course was very much hands on. We’d normally start with our chef lecturer demonstrating the steps to bake the cake for the day, and the rest of us would follow suit. We were also taught about the products’ origins and influences throughout the lesson. The course became more challenging as we progressed further - such as making decorative showpieces out of sugar and chocolates. Some of them included Marzipan shaping, modelling and finishing figurines. They were tricky but it was interesting because I had a chance to be creative.
Apart from learning all the practical skills, I was also given theoretical management knowledge and expertise; from recruiting to selecting and inducing staff, preparing and monitoring budgets, managing workplace diversity and dealing with financial operations.
Q: Did you carry out any internships / work placements?
N: All students have to complete a 6-month or 600 working hour industry placement. I did mine in Uluru in Northern Territory Australia.
Q: What’s your proudest creation?
N: I made a chocolate truffle tower for a best friend’s birthday. It was challenging as the climate in Malaysia is hot and humid, and so the work had to be done in an air-conditioned room!
Q: Could you tell us a little about the work you have done?
N: I worked in the pastry kitchen of a racecourse in Sydney which catered to 20,000 people. We made all sorts of pastries – cakes, scones, tarts, puff pastries, chocolate petit fours and desserts. We made different types of desserts every week for the fine dining restaurants. Of course it was also a pressure cooker as we operated on very tight schedules with last minute orders.
Q: Any embarrassing moments at work?
N: It happened during my industry placement. I was told to make a large amount of cream cheese frosting, which is a mixture of cream cheese, icing sugar, butter and vanilla essence. I accidentally turned on the mixing machine on high and covered the whole pastry section in icing sugar! I panicked and thought I was going to be kicked out of the kitchen. The looks on my colleagues’ faces were epic. But looking back, it was hilarious and we now have a good laugh over it.
Q: Do you have an idol?
N: I do but she’s not a chef. She’s my mum! She might not be a culinary genius but her achievements are a great encouragement for me to achieve more and I want to make her proud.
Q: Any advice to other aspiring chefs?
N: Persevere, work hard and gain as much knowledge as you can while in college. Most importantly, enjoy and have fun! Also, you will have to start from the bottom when you first start out – there is no jumping on the hierarchy.
If you love Nukcharee’s experience or beautiful pastries, then follow her culinary footsteps here.
An aspiring journalist with a passion for investigative journalistic work. Also a self-declared masterchef.