Failed student becomes star chef

Published: 24/01/2009 05:00

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Lookatvietnam - Frustrated, depressed and embarrassed are about the only words to describe Dao Duy Khanh’s feelings when he failed his university entrance exam in 2006.

Proud and overjoyed is the best way to describe his mood two years later when, at 23, he won the cooking gold medal at the 7th ASEAN Skills Competition, in Kuala Lumpur, last November.

The young man, who had wanted to study at the Ha Noi University of Industry, concedes that he accepted his fate only after attending a vocational training school.

“I didn’t like vocational skills and I had never thought about it before I started,” he says.

“I was dissatisfied even as being enrolled to the Ha Noi Tourism College.

“I told my mum I would be there for one year before sitting another entrance exam.

“But I changed my mind when I started putting what I learned into practice.”

Most of Viet Nam’s school leavers, particularly those with strong results, opt for university instead of acquiring vocational skills in the belief that tertiary degrees will win them a better job.

And Khanh had won a place in an English-language class for gifted students and the high likelihood of a university place.

He missed by just half a mark.

“The result severely upset him,” says his mum, Dao Thi Hang.

“He was the only one of 11 boys in his class to fail.”

It made her son too embarrassed to meet his mates.

“During the meals or whenever possible, his dad and I encouraged him to choose a vocational course as more suitable to both himself and his family’s finances,” she says.

The farmer household from northern Thai Binh Province was already supporting the young man’s sister at university.

Mixing flavours

Khanh finally enrolled in a cooking class in the hope of finding a job more easily. It was not until he knew that he had been accepted at the Tourism College that he resumed communications with his friends.

Khanh’s father worked as a construction worker in northern-coastal Quang Ninh Province to help pay the fees for both his son and daughter.

His mother raised a variety of loans as well as growing 6 sao (2,160sq.m) of rice.

Khanh also worked secretly at a restaurant in Ha Noi both to support himself and hone his cooking skills.

“The restaurant gave me the chance to get used to preparing food and I learned from the skilled cooks and chefs,” he says.

“This job requires skilful hands and I always ask for instructions whenever I’m not sure of what to do. I also explore the Internet or ask my teachers to ensure I receive different views.”

Khanh was familiar with Vietnamese food after his first year although he had still to start skills training.

This familiarity led to his selection, with a classmate, for the vocational school’s cooking contest and he promptly won the creative award for a rice dish cooked with coconut milk and displayed in an S-shape – the shape of Viet Nam.

But it was one of Viet Nam’s leading gastronomes, Truong Minh Ngoc, who instructed him European cuisine.

“I find many sources to be creative, from ingredients to flavours, when cooking European food,” he says.

“They are scientifically mixed.”

Khanh’s mentor, Truong Minh Ngoc, praises his portage’s skill.

“He is not as adept at theory as some, but in practise he is very attentive and very much loves the job,” says the master.

The northern farmer’s son won the admiration of all his examiners in Kuala Lumpur where he prepared both Vietnamese and European food.

His dishes included gio ga – sausage made from chicken, durian cakes with cheese and lamb cooked with three vegetables and two sauces.

Job offers

Success in the regional contest has prompted many job offers from hotels and restaurants. All have been refused.

“I’m currently practising at major hotels in Ha Noi for the World’s Skills Competition in Canada in September,” he says.

“I know there will be many excellent cooks and winning a prize will be difficult. But I’ll try to finish in the top 20.”

So does Dao Duy Khanh still think about university?

“If given a choice, I would opt for vocational training,” he says.

“Cooking is in my blood.”

(Source: VNS)

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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