Creative Culinaire Academy – Stretching & Folding Their Way to Perfection
Words by Hoe Ziqian

Established in 2000, Creative Culinaire Academy is led by Director and Principal Chef Judy Koh, who has more than 30 years of experience in the baking industry. She has the backing of a strong team of chefs with extensive commercial industry experience.

Creative Culinaire Academy is a fully equipped academy specialising in developing modules with a focus on bakery management, cakes, bread, and pastry skills. It partners extensively with NTUC LearningHub to provide Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training courses. These courses have had to go through a stringent quality framework to ensure the highest standard is made available to their participants. For more information on courses ranging from bread and pastry making to cake decoration, please visit https://www.ntuclearninghub.com/food-services-institute.

To recognize Chef Judy’s efforts in grooming and mentoring the future generations of bakers and promoting the local bakery and pastry industry, she was recently conferred the SkillsFuture Fellowship Award in 2020. It is a fitting tribute to a Singaporean legend who has dedicated her life to the betterment of her craft and the cultivation of the next generation of aspiring bakers.

Chef Judy particularly enjoys combining Asian and Western techniques in her cooking and baking. Her uncanny ability to fuse different cultures and cuisines is the true embodiment of all three skill pillars of Worker 4.0 – Technical, Technology and Adaptive.

The stewardship of NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) has been a critical source of support for Chef Judy and Creative Culinaire Academy over the years. The academy has been able to leverage the Career Conversion Program or CCP to lower the barriers to hiring, as it looked to invigorate its workforce by adding new and talented team members. The program defrays the hiring cost and puts the new hire through a rigorous and structured onboarding program that encompasses both internal and external training to give the employee the best possible chance of succeeding in their new role.

Where East Meets West

The word ciabatta in Italian means slipper, and it is easy to see the resemblance given its elongated, broad, and flat shape. The ciabatta is a rustic Italian bread that is made from wheat flour, water, olive oil, salt, and yeast. It is characterized by having a crisp crust and a large, irregular, and open crumb grain or cell structure. The open cell structure is the direct result of a much higher hydration level, which naturally makes the holes within the dough much bigger.

Director and Principal Chef Judy Koh showcasing the open cell structure in a classic ciabatta. (Image courtesy of Creative Culinaire Academy)

It is evident the ciabatta requires that little extra dexterity to execute to perfection, but if you leave it in the hands of a skilled local baker, chances are he will take it to the next level and surprise you with a flavour that evokes memories of Singapore’s unique food culture.

Enter Chef Timothy Chia, Deputy Director of Creative Culinaire Academy and son of Chef Judy Koh, with the Chicken Rice Ciabatta, an East meets West creation of the academy.

Raising The New Generation of Talent

The mother-son combination of Chef Judy and Chef Timothy is very much the life force of Creative Culinaire Academy. Chef Timothy started his baking education at the academy and honed his bakery and culinary skills at various hotels and restaurants for more than 10 years.

Despite his experience at the tender age of 30, Chef Timothy continued to seek knowledge and baking experiences with the US Wheat Associate and Grand Moulins de Paris in France. In 2019, he moved to Mexico and promoted Southeast Asian cuisines there through private dining events and pop-ups. He even provided consultations to aspiring chefs, business partners and restaurants. Chef Timothy was also invited as a guest chef to teach at a few cooking schools in Mexico. Back home in Singapore, he is also the co-founder of Botart, which won the hearts of many Singaporeans who enjoy pineapple tarts without the fillings.

Chef Timothy started his baking education at Creative Culinaire Academy where he teams up with his mother, Principal Chef Judy Koh. (Image courtesy of Creative Culinaire Academy)

Chef Timothy holds the Guinness World Records for the Tallest Chocolate Sculpture as well as several record-breaking baking events for the Singapore Book of Records such as Biggest Birthday Cake (2008), and Longest Packaged Breads (2020). He was also commissioned to be part of the team that designed the grand wedding cake for the movie, Crazy Rich Asians.  On top of these achievements, he was also nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year and Baker of the Year by the World Gourmet Awards in 2022.

More than just a chef, Timothy also designs culinary experiences and incorporates his artistic skills with his culinary prowess in his culinary classes, private dining sessions, consultancy and team-building events. With his work at Creative Culinaire Academy, Timothy hopes to inspire many others around him to create, design and showcase their baking talents to the world.

Water and Patience – An Unlikely Duo

Ciabatta lovers adore the open crumb, more developed flavours, and softer texture but anyone who has baked a ciabatta will tell you that it is both a delicious and frustrating experience. Just what makes ciabatta so technically challenging?

The answer lies in the dough, in this case, a high hydration dough.

As the name suggests, the high hydration dough requires a very high water-to-flour ratio.

A high hydration dough is all about using high water to flour ratio, typically 80% or more. The resultant dough is tricky to handle because it is naturally sticky, so it is not possible to knead it like normal dough. To get around this, you will have to use a stretch and fold technique.

What you get with a high hydration dough is a sticky consistency that requires you to use a stretch and fold technique instead of the usual kneading approach.

The autolyse method is a critical element to the success of the ciabatta preparation process. This is achieved by mixing flour and water before adding any starter and yeast. Doing so allows the flour to fully absorb water and jump-starts the gluten development within the dough.

To deal with the ‘sticky’ situation, Chef Timothy recommends that you oil your hands well when dealing with wet dough. One should also preserve as much air as possible during the shaping process to achieve that desired open cell structure when baked.

There is also a series of intermediate resting required to allow the dough to fully develop biochemically. If you rush through the process without allowing the dough to develop, the structure of your ciabatta bread will be affected, and you would not be able to see the large air pockets, which are the hallmarks of a proper ciabatta.

Other than the mastery of the high hydration dough, Chef Timothy was also able to showcase his technical prowess through the utilization of a retarder to retard the dough overnight for better temperature control.

Think of it this way, if a baker were to put the dough into a fridge, he would have to come to work earlier the next day and move the dough to the proofer to start the proofing process before it can be baked off. With a retarder, what essentially happens is that the proofing has started even before the baker comes to work. In this way, he can start baking immediately when he arrives at the bakery.

Technique aside, Chef Timothy has successfully localised his ciabatta by infusing the Chicken Rice flavour profile.  Rendered chicken fat, cooked with lemongrass, ginger and garlic, is used to replace the oil in the dough to give it that extra chicken rice flavour. A thin layer of ginger and scallion oil is brushed on before the ciabatta is topped with crispy rice puffs. The chicken fat and scallion oil give the ciabatta the distinct flavour of this celebrated local dish, while the inclusion of the rice puffs adds a clever and playful spin on texture.

As a finishing touch, the Chicken Rice flavour is topped with crispy rice puffs and a thin layer of ginger and scallion oil.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

As a second-generation business owner, Chef Timothy could not have asked for a better mentor than Chef Judy herself.

Much like how the ciabatta dough needs a little bit of time to develop properly, Chef Timothy is constantly pushing himself to be the best baker and educator that he can be. To his mother, he is both the present and the future of Creative Culinaire Academy, and there is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a young local baker make a name for himself in such a challenging industry. If that baker is your son, it is just the best feeling in the world.

The mother-son combination of Chef Judy and Chef Timothy brings irrepressible skill and innovation to the family business and the local baking scene. (Image courtesy of Creative Culinaire Academy)

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