The way Alvin Lee Ying Zhe, 25, tells it, he only knew what he wanted to do after he left school at age 18, after he took a trip down to Singapore for a holiday.
This shy, soft-spoken young man, who hails from the small Selangor town of Sekinchan which is well-known for its lush paddy fields, was like many other young people at that age who did not really know what they wanted to do in life.
Recalling that fateful trip and the moment that changed his life, Lee said: “I tried a bun at this bakery called Barcook. I liked it so much I decided then and there that I wanted to be a baker.”
It was an unusual decision for the young man, who had no family background in the culinary line. Lee’s father was a construction worker while his mother was a seamstress.
Despite having no prior experience in cooking or baking, after his epiphany, Lee was committed to pursuing this line of work.
“I went for training for two years at Barcook [in Singapore]. After that they sent me to Taiwan for a baking course.”
In Taiwan he spent a few months learning the theoretical side of baking, such as why bread dough acts the way it does.
Lee said that initially the hardest thing for him to master was making sure the the oven was the right temperature, and monitoring the baking time as it was crucial to get the perfect final end product.
“The first thing I learned to do was putting topping on the bread,” said Lee, who explained that his early tasks ranged from applying egg wash, or adding toppings such as onions or cheese onto the bread.
Subsequently he was allowed to bake his own bread. “The first thing I learned to bake was sweet bread,” he recalled.
After polishing his skills, he returned to Singapore and continued baking for Barcook.
When the company expanded its business to Malaysia about a year ago, Lee was able to return to the Klang Valley to help start up its first outlet located in Mid Valley Megamall.
Today, Lee is the chef and supervisor for Barcook’s two outlets in Klang Valley.
The buns, pastries, breads and cakes are all prepared on site, as there is no central kitchen and as no preservatives are used their products needed to be consumed with the day.
On a typical day, Lee and his bakers arrive at their respective outlets at 5am to start preparing and proofing the dough they need for that day.
Since their products are baked fresh, they continue baking small batches of different buns and pastries throughout the day.
So no matter what time you walk into their bakeries, you are ensured the freshness of their products.
Every three months new items are introduced. Lee himself tries out the products from other bakeries just to check out what is in the market. Based on his own observations, he sometimes sends suggestions to his bosses.
Essentially the baking style he learned is the Japanese style of baking, and he told us the flour used is actually imported from Japan.
When asked why he thinks Malaysians seem to like Japanese style breads, pastries and cakes.
“It is lighter and not too sweet compared to the European style cakes and pastries.”
When asked if he plans to open his own bakery down the road, Lee said no. He is happy where he is, and the smile on his face spoke volumes.