19 December 2023

Le Cordon Bleu NZ international student achieving nationwide culinary arts success

People & Culture

If you have visited one of the many bustling cafes in Wellington, New Zealand’s vibrant capital city, chances are that at some point you will have tried something made by Max Loh. Max is a former international student and graduate from Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand cooking school and has achieved much success in the culinary arts here in New Zealand.

Max is now senior baker at Deluxe Industries, a chef instructor for Savour Cooking School, and runs Thai and Malaysian cooking classes for the public. He credits a lot of his success to the support he received from his secondary school teacher in Auckland who put him on this path to pursue his passion. He says New Zealand is a wonderful place to study as not only is the pace of life more relaxed, he believes New Zealand to be a good place to be yourself, where you can proudly share your culture and background, and grow into whatever you want to do or be. Read on to find out about Max’s path to culinary success and how a New Zealand education helped him get there.....

Chef Max teaching students who participated in his Thai masterclass at Savour Cooking School

Max was born in Bangkok to a Thai Mum and Malaysian Dad but it was his Mum’s background and own culinary talents for cooking that sparked Max’s interest.  

“Mum would often encourage me to get involved and help her out in the kitchen. She mainly cooked traditional Thai dishes, but she also loved baking and we would spend hours baking together. She said I showed a real talent for licking the spoon, right from the get-go,” joked Max. 

“Despite my enjoyment in helping her, it wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand to complete my secondary schooling in Auckland, that I realised that it was something I really wanted to pursue as a career,” he added. 

An older Max with his Mum plating up dinner in the kitchen at home.

Max completed Years 12 and 13 at Botany Downs Secondary College in East Auckland and in addition to the more traditional subjects of Maths and Science, took food hospitality and food technology subjects. It was there he met the school’s head of food technology, Angie Thomson.  

Angie acknowledged that while most kids in her classes are foodies, she was early to spot that Max had an incredible talent and said he was in a class of his own.  

“As part of our final assessments for the year, the students were assigned the task of baking two batches of cream puffs. Max showed up in his chef’s whites and played classical music while he baked. The quality of his food was outstanding, and he blew everyone away,” said Angie. 

Max with Angie Thomson, Head of Food Technology at Max’s former secondary school, Botany Downs Secondary College.

 It was Angie that nominated Max for the Prime Minister’s Vocational Excellence Award (PMVEA) in 2020. Max was one of three recipients of the award and said winning really confirmed that this was what he wanted to do with his life.  

“Before moving to New Zealand, I wasn’t quite sure what career path I wanted to follow. I thought I would probably end up working in my family’s business in resourcing. 

“Winning this award as well as the motivation that Angie supported me with, gave me confidence to pursue my dreams. Angie showed me how I could make a career in the food industry and as well as nominating me for the PMVEA, entered me in other national secondary school competitions. These were held online, and I won both weeks of these competitions,” said Max. 

From there, Angie guided Max in his post-school study decisions seeing him stay on in New Zealand where he studied at Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand Culinary Arts School. Max said he chose Le Cordon Bleu due to its world-wide reputation in the culinary and hospitality industries.  

“I had heard of Le Cordon Bleu as they have schools in Thailand and Malaysia, but I chose Le Cordon Bleu in New Zealand because after I finished secondary school I wanted to continue studying in New Zealand. 

“I chose to come to New Zealand in the first place because of the environment here and the people. I love the lifestyle where everything is quite calm and relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle of my two home countries. The air is much cleaner, and I find the people so friendly and chilled out,” said Max when asked why he chose to study in New Zealand.   

Max graduated in 2022 from Le Grand Diplôme programme making him an expert of French cuisine, pâtisserie, and boulangerie, and during that time he continued to excel in his studies and in competitive cooking competitions around the country. Max was one of four finalists selected to compete at the Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge 2021. In Nestle’s 2022 Golden Chef’s Hat competition, he earned a silver medal and then earlier this year, Max was a top 3 finalist for 2023’s Beef and Lamb Young Chef Ambassador competition.  

Max competing in the 2023 Beef and Lamb Young Chef Ambassador competition.

 Throughout his studies, Max enjoyed trying out new flavours and would often draw on his Southeast Asian heritage and blend these with the produce of his adopted home.  

“I see it as a big advantage to my profession that I can bring together so many different cultures and experiences through in my cooking.  

“One of my favourite dishes that I prepared in class was a Thai flavoured inspired NZ lamb. My teachers absolutely loved it and nothing was left on the plate!”, said Max 

Le Cordon Bleu NZ’s Technical Director, Patisserie Chef Lecturer Sebastien Lambert said that Max was a committed student right from the first day. 

“Max always turned up with a great attitude and respect towards his peers. He really embraced any opportunity that came is way including the chance to work more by working closely with chefs on special events. It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of Max’s professional culinary journey,” said Sebastien.  

These days, Max has completed his Le Cordon Bleu studies, but he acknowledges that he’ll never stop learning new things as a chef. Like many chefs that have gone before him, Max started as a kitchen hand and has worked up through the culinary ranks. He now works for Wellington hospitality boss, Rob Crisp, who owns several renowned Wellington cafés, and is honing and broadening his skills in Viennoiseries such as the croissant. He is the senior baker in Rob’s central kitchen and trains and manages a team of 4 or 5 people every day. 

Max is currently perfecting the art of croissant making and his croissants are supplied to dozens of cafés in the Wellington region.

Max said “I want to keep pushing myself to expand my skills and knowledge of the culinary arts and am really keen on continuing to incorporate the different vibrant flavours and traditional cooking methods of my Thai and Malaysian heritage with modern French inspired cooking”.   

As well as working in Rob’s kitchen, Max is a chef instructor for Savour Cooking School in Wellington and runs Thai and Malaysian cooking classes for the public. He also had the opportunity to go back to his old school in Auckland recently to meet with his old Food Technology teacher, Angie and talk to the students on International Chef’s Day.  

Max running a workshop at his old secondary school, Botany Downs Secondary College in East Auckland. 

When asked if Max had any advice to other international students thinking about continuing their studies in New Zealand, he said he would absolutely recommend New Zealand as a study destination and encouraged people to find their passion and pursue it.  

“New Zealand is such a good place to be yourself and grow in whatever you want to do or be. The pace of life is so different to what I had back in Thailand and Malaysia and I have such a different perspective thanks to being an international student here.  

“I think that here in New Zealand, newcomers are encouraged to share their backgrounds, and, in my case, I can share my culinary heritage as a Southeast Asian through the food that I serve as it is how I can communicate with my guests. 

“What I serve to them tells a story about who I am, and where I come from including my cultural identity. Being able to express myself in this way is really important to me and what I enjoy most about what I do and about being here in New Zealand,” added Max.   


For more information on New Zealand’s Cordon Bleu Cooking School and the qualifications it offers, click here - Culinary Arts and Hospitality School | Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand 

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