Before preparing ingredients and cleaning of chillers and the kitchen of Candlenut, a one Michelin starred Peranakan restaurant, NUS BBA graduate Shane Gan (Class of 2014) specialised in Management. However, upon graduation, he decided to enrol himself in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy where he went on to work at Cheek by Jowl, another Michelin star restaurant and even held a few private dinners for family and friends.
So how did Shane get into this career path that many would have written off as a seemingly waste of his business education?
Q: Did you always know you were going to be a chef?
SG: During my Year 2 summer break, I interned at an airline. I found the long hours in front of the computer unbearable and wondered if I could repeat the same process over and over. It made me realised that I did not want a typical nine to five job doing the same things day in day out. I am lucky to be in a family that enjoys going out to eat, trying different cuisines. My mum used to cook a lot, and she would try cooking many different types of food. This opened up my mind to the possibility of cooking as a profession in the future, but honestly, I didn’t know I would want to be a chef.
Q: Was it a tough decision, deciding to go into a different line of work?
SG: When I was 17 or 18 and still in school, I remember my mum asking me if I wanted to go to cooking school. I turned it down as I did not have the confidence and courage to step away from the traditional ‘ideal’ jobs of working in offices or banks, or as a doctor or lawyer.
Q: What was the turning point for you – to decide you wanted to become a chef?
SG: During year three, I went on an exchange programme to Oslo with another schoolmate, Xavier. Everything was ridiculously expensive compared to back in Singapore, so we ended up cooking most of our meals in Norway. At that time, we were living in a hostel with a shared kitchen. I remember Xavier would prepare the ingredients for cooking, while I would do the cooking. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process, from going to the markets and buying our ingredients to preparing the ingredients, and finally getting to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. Washing the dishes and cooking utensils wasn’t so fun though. These moments made me decide to try my hand at being a professional cook, with the hope that I would enjoy doing what I do for a living.
Q: Knowing that you wanted to be a chef, how then did NUS Business School help you achieve your goals?
SG: After returning from my SEP, I had to think ahead of what modules would really help me move towards this possible career change. I’m lucky to be in NUS. With the breadth of modules available, I had the freedom to take a variety of courses at NUS Business School. I remember taking a course called ‘Itadakimasu – Food in Japan’. Can you believe it? There is such a course at NUS. Every week I looked forward to going for that class. This freedom to explore other areas allowed me to reaffirm my interest for food.
Q: How does he address critics who say he wasted his business education?
SG: I personally don’t find it a waste at all! Someday, I hope to have my own restaurant. Apart from learning culinary skills in the kitchen, I observed and learned how a restaurant business operates. The skills and knowledge that I have learnt in School helped me to understand various aspects of the business more easily. Eventually, these business skills I learnt will definitely be applied. I also firmly believe that a tertiary education goes beyond knowledge acquisition. It should also be about relationship building – something important regardless of which career path one takes.
Q: What are some of these memorable experiences you had in School?
SG: The most memorable experiences that I have at NUS Business School are with my friends. Making new friends in my first year at Orientation Week was really important. I found that going for classes with friends and studying together made school much more enjoyable. In my second year, I participated in Orientation Week as a group leader, and the friends that I made during that Orientation Week changed my life in school. It made me realise that school is not just about scoring the best grades and trying to get honours or making the Dean’s list. It is also about the process and journey to getting a degree, which are just as important. When I stopped putting my focus on trying to excel academically, I began to enjoy my time in school a lot more.
Q: What are your overall thoughts about University?
SG: NUS Business School stands out from other schools because it provides a complete university experience. I felt that during my time in School, I was well taken care of in every aspect of my education. This included the wide range of sports facilities. I played rugby at the inter-faculty games and also represented NUS. Even the campus accommodation was fantastic. Making and developing friendships are so important. I still keep in touch and hang out with my university friends. Recently, I even did a private dinner for the rugby club I used to play for.
Q: Any advice for current, or incoming students?
SG: Surround yourself with like-minded friends. Sometimes school can be challenging, both physically and mentally. If you have friends who have a similar outcome in mind, working together to attain those outcomes will be so much more enjoyable than trying to reach it alone. Just be yourself, and because there are many students with differing objectives, you will eventually be able to find a group of people who share the same ideals and values as yourself.
Pace yourself during your time in school. You have three or four years in school, and it can be extremely taxing on you to keep going at 100%. Occasionally reward yourself with some down time, and take a break or go for a short holiday with friends. I find that this will keep you feeling fresh and more energised when you get back to studying or doing work. Also, who doesn’t love a holiday?
Be patient when looking for a job. And when the offer comes, do not be in a rush to accept the job. Sometimes, we can be in such a rush to accept the job offer that we do not fully consider the bigger picture. If possible, request for a short work stint with the company before making your decision, as you will be able to have a better understanding of how the company works. You will also be able to see if the responsibilities that your job entails are aligned with what you want to do. When you get the job, be patient and do not expect immediate job satisfaction. Remember that you are new and it will take some time for people to warm up to you. Slowly build up the relationships with your colleagues and your boss, and in time you’ll find yourself getting more satisfaction and enjoyment from your job.
For more information on the NUS BBA programme, please visit bba.nus.edu.sg.