REACH Cooking students take the final exam
In the early hours of the morning, Thien Van Lo, a cooking student at REACH, went to the local market in Nam Tu Liem district, Hanoi. He needed to buy vegetables, meat, and some other ingredients for his final test on that day.
Thien would demonstrate his skills in preparing “cơm rang thập cẩm” (mixed fried rice). This was the dish he randomly picked yesterday from the black box of over 20 menu dishes chosen by the teacher.
The day before, Thien, like his classmates, was given a certain amount of money by REACH to prepare for their project. Thien had to carefully consider suitable ingredients for the dish as well as the right quantity of each.
“This is the first challenge for us,” said Thien. “As a professional cook, we have to learn how to make sure there shouldn’t be either waste or shortage of ingredients.”
At 8 am, the kitchen became busier with the first shift of 8 students taking the examination. The kitchen had been organized into four blocks. Their first task was to and clean and prepare their produce to be ready for their cooking demonstration.
At half-past eight, the cooking teacher Thuy Anh presented to the class. She brought with her evaluation sheets each with the name of a student doing the test. She announced to the students the evaluation criteria which include: the preparation, the number of ingredients, presentation, appearance, and taste of their dish. Duc Anh Pham, the assistant cooking teacher was there to support her.
Now it was time to start. Everyone was very nervous.
Thien stood behind his block. He picked up and cleaned his vegetables, and put all ingredients on the top of the table, in separate bowls, neatly and nicely. This dish required him to chop various ingredients at a high speed, to demonstrate flipping food in a big pan all the time controlling the heat at appropriate temperatures. These are fundamental cooking skills that they had been trained to do during the course.
On the next block, his friend Dinh was trimming a lily-shape from a piece of carrot while waiting for his chicken to marinate. He was going to make salted fried chicken.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen was filled with the wonderful aromas cooking of a multitude of delicious foods. The sound of knives chopping on boards and of foods frying in hot pans made the kitchen seem even busier than ever. The teachers wandered around each block to observe students’ performances. Coming back to their desk, they wrote notes on the students’ evaluation sheets.
The two-hour exam passed quickly. Teacher Thuy Anh announced that the time was up. One by one students brought their final product to the presentation table which was covered with a black tablecloth and decorated with purple onions, peppers, and capsicums.
In a few minutes, the table was filled with a beautiful array of colorful and attractive dishes.
Thien stepped towards the teacher’s desk with his mixed fried rice. A hint of anxiety appeared on his face. He knew that his teachers would be very tough with their evaluations of students’ performances.
Thien’s fried rice was evaluated as well-decorated and tasty but quite dry, and lacking the dish’s signature yellow color which comes from eggs. He was praised for his overall preparation.
Thien took the teachers’ comments well, even the tough comments about the dish’s dryness and color. He considered these were very useful pieces of advice and would only serve him well in the future.
In fact, this was the attitude that teacher Thuy Anh expected from all her students.
“In real business, they have to respectfully take customers’ bad comments for their mistakes and fix them,” said Thuy Anh. “Or they will lose customers and their business.”
“Despite my tough comment, all students passed the exam, with 70% of them even completing with excellent standards,” Thuy Anh secretly shared with us. “They are all ready to take up roles as cook assistants in 100 seats and above restaurants.”
As a 20 year from an ethnic minority community in Dien Bien province, Thien started the training with very little confidence in his cooking skills.
“I used to cook for my family. But cooking for a number of people in a restaurant is much more difficult than for family in so many ways”, Thien said. “I have found that careful preparation before cooking is an important skill which saves nearly 50% of the cooking time”.
Tuoi Thi Quang, a Thai ethnic minority from Son La, had nurtured her interest in foods since she worked for a local restaurant in her hometown as a waitress.
“Taking the cooking course at REACH has opened my eyes about the world of food”, said Tuoi. “I had never heard of many seasonings that we used for various foods in our training”
Having completed their final examination, Thien, Tuoi, and Dinh among many other students were all very excited. They knew that they would soon start working in one of the restaurants that had offered them a job in the week before the exam.
After 3 months of training, students developed many skills, found a new confidence, and identified many exciting pathways and opportunities. For these, REACH and its students would like to pass on their thanks to the valued donors and partners who have accompanied them on this journey, especially during the unprecedented and challenging time of COVID-19.
You can help us educate more of Vietnam’s disadvantaged youth by donating here.