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Alumni Interview

Mr. Jeongjae Lee, CEO of Shuraz Cake

Diplôme de Pâtisserie 2020

What made you learn pastry program at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy?
While I ran a dessert café, I have always felt the need to learn pastry techniques. However, I postponed my plan to attend culinary school because I was so busy with my everyday work. After my shop started to be established, I finally looked for a culinary school to learn party technics. My wife, with whom I run the business and who is an experienced pastry chef, has strongly recommended me, Le Cordon Bleu. That is how I came to learn pastry at Le Cordon Bleu.

You had experience in pastry before attending the Academy; what are the pros and cons of starting learning from the basics at Le Cordon Bleu?
Although I was running a café, I didn't have the basic knowledge or skills to create or develop new products to call myself a chef, so I constantly thirsted for the basic skills of pastry. The biggest advantage was that I could add to the knowledge built through my field experience. A well-designed curriculum of theory and the basic skills, as well as the know-how of chefs, allowed me to organize and solidify my knowledge. On the other hand, there were many differences between the Japanese pastry that my wife learned and the French pastry I learned. There were times we each insisted on the way we were taught. However, rather than considering this as a disadvantage. Understanding the differences between the two countries' pastry allows me to construct my style and becomes an advantage.

You and your wife are both pastry chefs; when do you feel the most support for each other?
You must deal with many situations when you run a store, other than making excellent products and creating new menus. I find most support in those many situations where we can exchange opinions. That allows us to make adjustment and improve. Also, in the kitchen, my wife is the one who helps me improve as a chef. The fact that a couple can improve by encouraging each other is also very helpful. 

How would you describe ‘Shuraz Cake’ in a word? And why?
To me, Shuraz Cake, in a word, is sincerity. While raising two children, I have put all my heart into making desserts and always tried to show my sincerity to every employee and customer who came by our store.   

In the Korean market, where trends change rapidly, what is Shuraz Cake’s strategy to differentiate itself? 
The dessert industry is quite volatile, with consumer tastes changing rapidly. To me, the most differentiating strategy is not being interrupted by these trends and concentrating on the essence. From simple baked cookies to petits gâteaux with a complicated process, regardless of the type of products, I make desserts that I crave and that people would like to come back for it. For example, when we speak about Shuraz Cake, many customers think about the Sesame Chewy Rice Cake. In the beginning, it was a hit-or-miss kind of product since the clients were unfamiliar with the texture of the cake: the smooth texture of the cake altogether with the chewy texture of the rice cake. But the flavor given by the sesame was excellent, so through some trial and error, today, it became a signature menu of Shuraz Cake.

After finished Le Cordon Bleu pastry diploma program, did you bring any changes to the operation of the store? If so, what are they?  
Shuraz Cake started as a dessert café, and now my business has been extended and opened another store. We are also operating a baking studio where we meet many clients from the café or students who come to take pastry classes. While teaching pastry to someone at first seemed like a vague goal to me, now, after building the expertise, I am proud to share the knowledge I acquired and the recipes I created. I think that is the most significant change.

What are your future goals and plans?
The store's operation is currently well established, I aim to provide continuously good products as we are doing now. In addition, I desire to offer Shuraz Cake’s products to a more extensive clientele that has been growing. So, I plan to produce Shuraz Cake further through OEM to serve not only the customers who come to our direct managed stores but also the customer who visit a business where Shuraz cake supply the desserts.

Do you have any tips for fellow alumni or future students dreaming of starting their own business?
I would like to tell them not to worry too much about starting a business. As we say, any long journey begins with a single step, so rather than spending too much time worrying. If you start by doing market research to concretize your business, I think you are a step closer to opening your store. Even today, although I manage two stores through two business launches, I still study the market trends through social networks or dedicated magazines. Also, in my spare time, I often visit department stores to see pop-up events or newly opened local dessert shops because they quickly reflect the trends. Visiting and studying the customers' responses become the driving force not to settle with the present but continue pushing forward. If you are a Le Cordon Bleu alumni with the willingness to do so and the basic skills mastered, I think visiting a store that interests you as a market survey is a good starting point.

To Jeongjae Lee, Le Cordon Bleu is?
I think Le Cordon Bleu is "my first step as a Chef." Of course, I have mastered the theories and the pastry skills through learning, but the biggest acquirement is that I now have learned the attitude that a Chef should possess in the kitchen. During the first classes, as I was so used to working with the kitchen equipment in the stores when I had to do almost everything by hand during the practical class, there were times it was hard as it was physically demanding, and I felt like I wasn’t getting better. However, looking back, those were valuable times as I’ve acquired more of a sense of touch through those manual works. And as the Chefs have taught me, I have learned to start the day by arranging my workbench neatly as a Chef should.

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