On Wednesdays and Fridays, there’s a sweet, sweet smell wafting in the Yangon air as chefs and students bustle about preparing delicate baked goods. There’s something different about this kitchen, though.
There’s no shouting like you’d see on a celebrity kitchen show, no orders being yelled out above the sound of pots and pans. This is a quiet kitchen. The students and chefs are deaf.
Chef Thang Yawn Mang, or Dominic, the leading project manager for the Deaf Chefs Pastry Program, sponsored by the Myanmar Chef’s Association, is the Senior Sous Chef at the prestigious Belmond Governor’s Residence.
Hailing from Chin State, Chef Dominic graduated with a degree in culinary arts from Taylor’s College in Malaysia. After graduating, he spent a few years in Singapore and Malaysia before coming back to Myanmar. For the past three years, he has been volunteering with the Myanmar Chefs Association, who launched the Deaf Chefs Pastry Program in February of this year, which works with the students at the Mary Chapman School for the Deaf.
He is supported by Pastry Chefs Naw Hser Eh Ah of the Belmond, and Aung Myat Bo of the Inya Lake Hotel. Both chefs are hearing-impaired, and graduates of the Mary Chapman School for the Deaf and My Red Elephant, a culinary training program for the deaf founded by Maurizio Mandl. Chef Naw won an international Silver Medal in 2014 and Gold in 2016 & 2017. Both chefs are independently supporting their families while working in extremely prestigious culinary venues in Myanmar.
“We want to teach the deaf boys and girls who have passion in pastry, so that they can choose this as their professional job later on,” noted Chef Dominic.
“Pastry chefs are in demand… after 2 to 3 years, they can earn around $500 USD if they are reasonably skilled.” By creating a common forum and meeting place for more experienced deaf chefs, Chef Dominic said, “they can pass on their skills and experiences to the junior deaf students since they have better communication, understanding, and feelings among themselves.”
“This is outstanding,” mused Chef Oliver Esser, President of the MCA. “The disabled teaching the disabled. Not much disability left, then!” The training sessions are not without their incidents, though.
“A funny situation we had at the very first training,” Chef Oliver divulged, was “when the first load of cookies was in the oven. It nearly burnt [because] when the time was over the watch set [rang], but, of course, no one reacted as no one heard it.” The solution? Ovens with blinking lights for alarms.
The program is year-round, divided into three segments: breads, rolls, and cakes. “We have around 10 to 15 students in every class,” Chef Dominic said. “Most of them are 15 to 18 years old. Parents of the students also join their kids while learning by themselves! Since they are worried for the future of their kids, they are involved in the training, such as translation, etc.”
The school currently sells pastries baked by the students, ensuring a self-sustained program. Daw War War Phaw, one of the teachers, handles all orders from customers, accepted within a week’s notice. “We sell 120 grams of butter cookies for 1,500 kyats, with nice packaging with the logo of the school. Of course, we are doing other cookies too, like chocolate, raisin, & mixed fruits and nuts,” Chef Dominic added. “As per our MCA rules, we use only the best quality of products: best butter, best flour, best nuts, etc.,” he said proudly. “We can sell the products and support the school itself to become a sustainable school for the long term.”
“MCA and partners provide all the equipment, such as a double-deck gas professional-grade baking oven, 10 kg mixer, freezer, chiller, all the ingredients, and even rubbish bins, which cost $5,000 USD!” Chef Dominic said. “Now, the Training Center is running off profits after five months- which is great success for all concerned parties!”
“The MCA would like to improve this training center to a higher stage not only for the deaf students, but also for Myanmar Pastry Chefs to practice Sugar Pulling and Chocolate Arts,” he added. “There is no place in Myanmar yet for this kind of training.” The MCA has been raising funds through events such as the MCA Annual Charity Dinner.
The Deaf Chefs may be running the quietest kitchen in Myanmar, but, they have an edge: “Do you remember when you last said, ‘Quiet, please! I need to concentrate,’?” Chef Oliver asked. “Deaf people do not get distracted, manipulated, sick, or annoyed by sound.” This, he believes, leads to a heightened sense of artistry. “My vision is to see the deaf people of Myanmar in 5 to 10 years the top chocolate and sugar artists in Asia and further.”
Daw War War Phaw can be reached at 09.25.425.9204 to receive any pastry orders.