I received a surprise call late in the afternoon some time in the final quarter of 2007.
It was a period ripe for change. I began craving for the hustle and bustle of modern cities again.
Eyed on several opportunities for some time, this call was unlike any other. It involved opening a large-scale and high-end hotel of 550 rooms coinciding the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
2008 was going to be THE year in the whole of my career.
Thrilled, nervous, and challenged, in less than two months I came on board as the head pastry chef of Westin Beijing Chaoyang. And to top it off, the first family of the U.S., then President George W. Bush, stayed with us for the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games.
Shortly after the Olympics came to an end, our hotel was graced by many big names from political to sports figures. I spent many sleepless nights and onerous days. Consequently, it pushed me to unchartered paths. And it made me crave for new learnings.
in the later part of 2008, the great economic crisis of the 20th century reached its peak. We all can remember too well how hard it came down on us; people were losing jobs in a snap and companies going bankrupt.
During this period, as the hotel business across China went on a slump, I took a bold move to fly to New York to study at the French Culinary Institute while the world was healing. I was learning more about artisan chocolates and sourdough breads.
When I first arrived in the French Culinary Institute (FCI), I didn't know better the administrative staffs were anticipating my presence. I felt overwhelmingly honored with how I was being welcomed and treated from the day I started my courses until the very end. I was told later they weren't too sure they would accept my enrollment because of my experience and background as they didn't want to fall short on me.
To ensure my time with FCI was very beneficial, I was sent to events and introduced to leading celebrity chefs. It was the most elating experience in my career to have rubbed elbows with the top chefs in the US (Ron Ben Israel, Jacques Torres, Johnny Iuzzini and Daniel Boloud to name a few). How it felt like? Like a baby having his first lollipop.
These figures in the industry were just images on the TV screen, names I have overheard from colleagues who emulate them and people I could just wish to see in person at least once in life. And all these were realized without anticipation.
2008 was definitely a year to reckon with.
It affirmed my conviction as a pastry chef - that what I had been through and my vast experiences in many countries molded me to become a very competitive candidate in the industry.