In the simplest way, if we have to describe Chef Sally Handoko, we can say she is someone who loves challenges. No, it’s not the usual way of just saying it; the more complicated it is the more she gets interested in it when it comes to patisserie.
Chef Sally started her career in the Four Seasons in Indonesia and edged into the pastry kitchen. After two years at Four Seasons, she moved to Dubai and worked with JW Marriot, Fairmont, and Conrad Dubai before her current position with ICCA Dubai as a Pastry Chef Instructor. Despite her successful position as a pastry chef in the kitchen hierarchy, Sally was always interested in developing her career as a culinary instructor so she can share her knowledge and inspire the next round of professionals in the field.
Shruti: I heard that your mom used to conduct cooking/baking classes for home cooks when you were growing up. Was that the reason you were inclined towards culinary profession from a very young age?
Sally: Yeah, I could say it is one of the reasons, along with the fact that I always enjoyed cooking until I learned to bake. I was intrigued by the accuracy and perfection that you need to follow in each and every step of baking to get the desired result, unlike cooking. I remember my first attempt to make a simple sponge cake when I was in school, and it took me around 20 – 30 trials to get it done right. The more I tried the more it kept me interested in it so I could say baking is what created a passion for the culinary profession in me.
Shruti: You always knew that you wanted to be a Pastry Chef. How did you prep yourself for the profession?
Sally: I started formal training during my high school days. In Indonesia, we have optional programs that we can do in high school and Hotel Management was one of them so I took it. After finishing the school I joined the bachelor program in Patisserie which ended with a 6-month internship in one of the prominent hotels of the region.
Shruti: Tell us a little about your journey as a Pastry Chef so far.
Sally: From day 1 of my first job, it’s been a pleasantly challenging and amazing journey. Upon the completion of the course, I started my career with Four Seasons in Jakarta and worked there for 2 years. From there I moved to Dubai and worked with JW Marriot, Conrad, and Fairmont where I met my real mentor, Eric Gouteyron one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the world, who is the reason for what I have become today, before moving to ICCA as a pastry chef instructor.
Shruti: Despite having such a successful career line in the industry why did you opt for teaching profession?
Sally: When I was working with Conrad, I was asked to train a group of newly hired chefs by my Executive Chef for the pastry department. I wanted everyone to be consistent with their work, so regardless of the knowledge they already had in patisserie, I trained them all equally from the very basic. That was my first ever teaching experience and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Since then I have been thinking of moving into the teaching profession and eventually, ICCA happened.
Shruti: You have a passion for teaching; if I may ask, what is your style of teaching?
Sally: I am a very friendly teacher. You can joke around with me as much as you want but if you don’t follow my instructions in the class, then that’s going to be a whole different story. And I think this approach has worked for me so far; since I am friendly with the students they are comfortable in my class and maintain the discipline in a fun way.
Shruti: How different was it for you to teach the students from training the chefs in the kitchen?
Sally: It’s true that I found passion in teaching while I was training the chefs in my kitchen but what I did not think through was that the chefs are already well trained so they will grasp things easily which is not the case when it comes to the students. They are new to all of this, so naturally, the effort I have to put into every new batch is much more compared to the kitchen days. However, this is refreshing my knowledge every 3 months and that’s something you won’t get in the kitchen unless you make time for it.
Shruti: What is your favourite class to take?
Sally: Plating & presentation; one of the modules is all about plating, assembling and presentation and I enjoy taking that class the most.
Shruti: What is your take on the modern day healthy dessert trend?
Sally: I like experimenting a lot with ingredients be it healthy or regular, and that’s mostly because I love to push my limits. When I was working in the industry I had created a healthy series of dessert recipes that have been well appreciated and featured in the Pro Chef magazine a couple of years back. At the same time, I don’t really agree with changing a traditional dish into a completely new one and call it the same.
Shruti: WorldSkills is coming up in Abu Dhabi, and ICCA patisserie team is participating in it, could you please give a brief on the event?
Sally: It’s the first time I am participating in an event as big as WorldSkills although last year I was a judge at Emirates Skills. This time since it’s a competition there is a lot of preparation going on with our students and I am definitely excited to be a part of this event. When you’re in the industry you don’t get much time to get involved with events like this but now that I am at ICCA, it’s not an opportunity to be missed.
Shruti: Any advice for the students?
Sally: Push yourself in your work to do what you’re afraid of doing because that’s how you learn.