Emily Livesey first pursued a “safe” degree in an Australian university before pivoting to embark on the journey of her dreams: exploring the culinary arts in Switzerland.
When her father passed away in the middle of her studies, Livesey was torn between continuing her programme in Brisbane or starting afresh. She decided to check out the International Culinary Management course at KDU, a local institution in her home country Malaysia, and fell in love instantly.
When the opportunity came for her to transfer and spend her final year of uni at the International Management Institute in Switzerland, she jumped on it. It was the best choice she’d ever made, she says. Today, she’s set to be part of the opening team for a new restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Below we speak to this determined culinary graduate about her journey in Switzerland and what challenges she had to overcome:
What are some of the challenges you faced studying at the International Management Institute in Switzerland as an international student?
The transition from studying in Malaysia to Switzerland was relatively easy for me as that was not the first time I studied abroad. However, being in the European continent, the language barrier was definitely the biggest challenge. The International Management Institute gave the students an opportunity to study German, so I jumped on it.
I knew it would come in handy when looking for an internship in Zurich and for any future employment I may have in a German-speaking country. Switzerland is a relatively cosmopolitan society and because of that, I had a very international group of friends. This made living there much easier for me, because they were essentially in the same boat as me.
So besides the language, there weren’t many challenges I had to overcome. Although during the start of the pandemic, I did experience some racial discrimination because of the way I look — I’m Malaysian Chinese after all! To some “older” individuals, they assumed I was from China and treated me like a patient zero, which wasn’t pleasant. In my opinion, however, you can’t let a few bad apples spoil the tree. It was an amazing time overall!
Tell us more about your food career trajectory since graduating uni.
It’s definitely been a strange couple of years. I never actually got to physically attend my graduation ceremony which made it feel unreal. In true COVID-19 fashion, I got to attend my graduation virtually. Thankfully, the International Management Institute invited us back at the end of this year, so maybe I will get to walk the stage and celebrate with my fellow graduates. Right now, I have an amazing career opportunity that fresh graduates don’t manage to get easily. I’m part of the opening team for a new restaurant in Kuala Lumpur — an exciting time. Although it hasn’t been easy, I know 100% that being a chef is the right career choice for me. I would like to thank my uni back in Switzerland to help me develop the skill sets and knowledge I’ve used to contribute significantly to this project.
How are you using the knowledge and skills gained in your culinary course in your current job?
Menu engineering, food costing, recipe cards and general kitchen skills are all attributes I bring to the table. Additionally, with the experience of working at five-star hotels, I have been able to utilise my knowledge and experience to better serve the team.
When you’re at uni, there is always that worry in the back of your mind that what you learn may not be applicable to the real world. But in my case, I have found almost everything I learnt completely relevant and has equipped me well.
Studying culinary management is immersive, literally thrown into the deep end. However, at uni, they throw you a lifeline with guidance, assistance and tailor-made courses that teach and test your abilities.
What do you wish you had learned more during uni?
People management. If there is one thing I’ve learned post-uni, it’s that the restaurant and kitchen are as much about the people who work in it as it is about the food. Another important skill that I wish I had more help in uni with is leadership.
Studying leadership theoretically is completely different than putting it to practice. I feel students will benefit more from practical stimulation than just talking about it.
What advice do you have for international students who are planning to enrol in the same course as you did?
Don’t glamourise the culinary management industry. It’s tough and much harder than people think it is. Go into the course with an open mind and be prepared for ideas and inputs to be challenged constantly as you try to reach consensus in the kitchen. If you do get challenged, don’t take it to heart. It is, after all, the nature of what we do in the culinary world.
In 10 years what would you like to be doing and where would you like to be living?
In 10 years from now, I see myself settled in somewhere like Melbourne or Zurich. Mostly because there is a passionate culture surrounding food. When it comes to furthering my career, I would love to be in a place that not only supports my culinary passion but enhances it. I feel I would really thrive in places like those. While saying that, Malaysia will always be my home as most of my inspiration for food originated right here.
What’s one thing from home you missed and how did you substitute it?
Definitely the food! I think that is one aspect all Malaysian students who go abroad miss. I understand every culture has its own unique cuisine, but the Malaysian one is undeniable and in my opinion, the best. That is the beauty of growing up in a country that has different ethnicities that converge their food culture with another.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any Malaysian restaurants in Switzerland. However, Asian grocery stores were very much available. Therefore, I had the chance to cook Malaysian food in the comfort of my own home.