Sometimes all you need to boost your career, is someone to inspire you. Marie Claire worked with four industry experts – a celebrity chef, a fashion designer, a fitness Youtuber, and a marketing director – and paired them up with four of our readers who aspire to gain an insight into their world. After a week of the mentorship programme, we sat down for a chat with Isadora Chai and Safiyyah Khairul about their experience and achievements.
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Safiyyah Khairul, Manager at Souka Bakeshop
Tell me about Souka café and your venture into baking.
I started baking when I was eight or nine, making brownies for school to be sold for hari kantin. Souka is my family friend’s café. When I was still studying for my degree (marketing and business) I was looking for a part time job. They opened up in Subang two years ago, I asked if they needed an extra pair of hands, and we had good chemistry. When they asked if I wanted to manage the place, I said yes. So I cook, I manage the place, but I don’t bake because we have a team of bakers.
Why did you decide to join this mentorship programme?
I decided to join the programme to gain a wider view of the culinary and restaurant culture in KL. I wanted to learn more on food management system, managing the kitchen, and inventory. I also wanted to learn new cooking techniques that Isadora uses in her kitchen. As an amateur in the café industry, I wanted to gain more knowledge about F&B – particularly fine dining and silver service. Being a celebrity chef, I also wanted to learn how Isadora juggles her everyday schedule to balance work, family, and life.
What are the major challenges you face in these two settings, a café and a restaurant?
They have a different set of standards in a restaurant. In my café, you order at the counter and we serve you. Here at Bistro you come in through the door, you sit down, and you’re given food and wine pairing suggestions.
How was your mentorship?
It’s been fun to see Isadora every day. It’s like a routine, it’s always up and down KL, PJ, studio, meetings, interviews, kitchen, market – we went to the market this morning to get orchids at Taman Tasik Perdana. For dinner and lunch service I got to observe because I have to respect her as a chef in her own kitchen. I got to see her new techniques, things that I’ve never heard of, and ingredients that I’ve never used.
What are the stress levels like?
It’s normal to be stressed in the kitchen, because you need food to be out fast and correctly done. You don’t want raw meat served or fish overcooked, so it’s nice to see that in a restaurant, something I’m not familiar with because I’m based in a café.
Describe Isadora in three words.
Hardworking. Bold. And she has a crazy mind. The way she makes her tempoyak in particular – it uses a fermentation process which cultivates bacteria to create a distinct flavour. She wanted to get it clinically tested to do a bacteria count!
What is your biggest challenge so far in handling a family café?
To build a team that has good chemistry, and is consistent and strong. Isadora told me all her employees have been there since day one. She’s always helping out her employees’ family and constantly maintains a good relationship with them. It’s difficult for me because my staff are mostly part-time or students.
It’s two different things – cooking for fine dining in a restaurant and managing a café. How would you apply these techniques that you have learned in this mentorship into your café?
The strict SOPs [standard operating procedures] like the ingredients and labeling are something I’d like. I’ve learned some plating techniques, I’ve learned that staff movement is important, and a lot of PR as well. I think she treats her team well, that’s why everything runs so smoothly. Even though we were in the studio yesterday, everything at Bistro was perfectly fine.