Chef Sam Leong on Teaching

What have you been up to?After I left Tung Lok Group in July last year, I wanted to take things slow. I then opened the cooking school in November with my wife, Forest. At the beginning, we wanted to keep things quite quiet. We later decided to give a 50 percent discount on our classes, just to raise awareness, and we were attacked with customers.How did you get involved in the inaugural 2011 Asian Masters? One of my friends who’s involved with the F&B side of things approached me about it and I thought it would be a great way to support a local event with other Asian chefs. It’s been a little stressful, because when you do a 10am cooking class (as opposed to a 1:30pm one) you have to wake up early, buy stuff, prep and all that. But it gives us experience. Plus it reminds us that it’s not a good idea to do early morning classes, particularly on Saturdays.Tell us about what it’s like working with your wife.Working together has been quite natural and comfortable. We really understand each other well and it helps that we speak the same culinary language. I’m pretty lucky that Forest understands me and is so understanding. She entertains when I teach, and jumps in when I don’t do such a good job of explaining things.Which role do you prefer playing, chef or teacher?I switch back and forth from chef to teacher, so my point of view is flexible. The sense of satisfaction is so different. What’s important is a real personal touch and to build chemistry with the people you meet. To win a customer takes so many things, but to lose a customer takes only a second. When I do chef’s tables, all I need is context and a budget. Whether it’s a family event, a group of friends, I only ask one question, what don’t you eat? It’s the joy of doing it freely, and they let me decide. If they come back and tell me a long list of demands, I’ll just introduce them to the Ritz-Carlton. On the other hand, I really want to give back to my students, for them to have fun so they leave happy. When we do our classes, we offer generous tasting portions. I also want to surprise them with our hospitality. And it seems to work, because they keep returning.To heat things up in the kitchen, try your hand at one of their cooking classes. From April, you’ll also be able to enjoy Sam Leong’s Chef’s Table. sam.leong@forest Cooking School is located at 4A Craig Rd., 6222-3305. Log on to their website for details.