Culinary students in Yala Province are seizing on the popularity of Thai cuisine to better their lives. They're pursuing career opportunities in the hospitality trade that will open up through regional integration with next year's launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
"I chose to study in this department because the more I learned about cooking, the more enjoyment it gave me," Juree Waewthongrak, a first-year student at Yala Vocational Education College (YVC) in Muang district, told Khabar Southeast Asia. "I realised that you really have to put your heart into it."
Juree said with the culinary arts expanding in the age of globalisation, Thai food is establishing itself as one of the nation's major cultural exports through the AEC's emergence.
"Our cuisine is an important way of presenting our cultural heritage abroad," she said.
YVC is expanding its curriculum to include a bachelor's programme in culinary arts, and is establishing exchange programmes with other regional trade schools, including one in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
The Yala college is also widening its curriculum to meet an anticipated demand increase for well-trained Thai staff skilled in halal food production, YVC Director Isaman Isama-air told Khabar.
The campus is building both a food-processing lab and halal science classrooms. It also adds foreign language courses to better prepare students for the international job market once the AEC economic and trade bloc launches.
"Graduates of the new programme will not only be certain to find decent employment, but they will also be very well-positioned to continue their studies at a higher level in a wide number of related fields," Isaman said.
Graduates will also be well-positioned to land jobs at Thai restaurants in Malaysia-- where 6,500 such establishments employ some 150,000 expatriates.
A class of 51 YVC culinary arts students began studies last year, with six teachers and six classrooms, including one dedicated to halal food science theory and production techniques.
Students also learn how to make sweets and process foods, particularly from Yala's most famous agricultural export, the longkong fruit (also known as langsat).
"There is nothing more important in our daily lives than food, and that is why I chose to study in this programme," first-year student Manasaporn Makenkating said. "What we are learning offers us far more opportunities than just being a cook in a restaurant.
"It gives us a chance to follow a wide range of stable careers…. We learn a lot more here than just cooking."