Imagine living alone in Paris, with only a kitten to keep you company. Sure, your apartment has a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower and you enjoy visiting farmer’s markets on the weekends – but life is tied to work as an investment director in a private equity firm.
That’s until the Singaporean workaholic in you gets a wake-up call after being reported twice to your company’s Human Resource for sending emails after work hours and not leaving the office by 6pm. In other words, you were told to get a life.
So what do you do to fill all this work-free European-way-of-life spare time? If you’re former Mediacorp actress-host Sharon Au, you work more – by starting your own website about French food.
That would be Ti Yan Academy, an online academy “that teaches you the finer qualities of the French way of life”, explained Au. The portal, which takes its name from the Mandarin word for "experience", will offer courses, demonstration videos and interactive sessions with chefs hailing from both Singapore and France who will serve as mentors.
The self-professed “reliable workaholic” told CNA Lifestyle that for the first time in 44 years, she’s focusing on “being” instead of “working.”
And it all came about after “moving to Paris and starting life with a clean slate.” It was an experience that heightened her senses. “I became more acutely sensitive to what appeals to the five senses. I slowed down my walk, the speed in which I eat. And I was overwhelmed by French cuisine as it is now my staple,” she explained.
“Then I met (former CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School classmate and Singaporean singer) Tanya Chua, who was in Paris for a professional pastry course. And I was inspired by how much passion a student had for mastering a perfect pastry.”
She added: “And I thought to myself, what about people like us who might not have the time nor privilege to fly to these famous academies for a few months, where do they learn from? What about those who don't speak French? And so, Ti Yan was born.”
Au shared her idea with a whole bunch of people including Singapore-based chefs Julien Royer from Odette, Sebastien Lepinoy from Les Amis, Gunther Hubrechsen from Gunther's, Vianney Massot of Restaurant Vianney Massot and Patrick Heuberger from Atout. The latter three are already on Ti Yan’s roster. “They are my support system!” she said.
With an investment of S$100,000 of her own money, Au is hoping for Ti Yan to expand beyond the culinary world. “We start with French culture in particular, and French gastronomy,” she said. “Then we progress to wine degustation, fashion design, opera appreciation in the next phases.”
The start of Ti Yan locally does not mean Au will be relocating back to Singapore anytime soon though. The multi-hyphenate said she will still be based in Paris – even though she does “hate the stench in the Metro” which is why she travels by e-scooter (or “trottinette” if you’re French).
What she does love about the City Of Light is the vibrant art scene. “Every Thursday night there are gallery openings or new exhibits, somewhere, somehow,” she said. “Art is everywhere in the city, you just need to open your eyes and discover.”
Her life in Paris has been one of a “starving entrepreneur learning the art of protest”. And she does miss parts of the Singapore way of life. “I miss my fix of bak chor mee, chicken rice and nasi lemak. All things local, really,” she said. “But I don't miss the lifestyle.”
All that said, what’s the next five years looking like for Sharon Au?
“I aim to age with grace, and write a book called From Serangoon To Paris,” she said, with a laugh. “My earliest childhood memories were growing up in a kampung in Serangoon.”
For more info on Ti Yan Academy, visit https://tiyan-academy.com/