ALTHOUGH Agnes Lei Kay-ing's secondary school results were average, she decided to pursue higher education. Today, as a Year Four student at the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT), Agnes has found her passion - preparing and serving food. 'It is rare for girls to be interested in working in the kitchen,' she said. Agnes was referring to the industrial kitchens in hotels, restaurants and airline catering services, where huge amounts of food are produced. 'The equipment is heavy,' Lei added. 'If a woman cannot carry it, the men in the kitchen would have to drop what they are doing to move equipment for her.' Agnes went to a secondary school where Chinese was the medium of instruction, so she was very happy when she was accepted by the IFT, where all classes are conducted in English. She adapted quickly. Unlike her classmates who found some lectures boring, Agnes liked all the lessons, especially those dealing with cooking and serving food. And she has been gaining hands-on experience for the past two years by helping out in the school training restaurant's kitchen. 'Basically it was a way to learn how to cook, free of charge,' Agnes said. While students taking the hotel management programme learn how to plan menus, cook food, appreciate wine and set tables, Agnes absorbs information faster than anyone else, according to the IFT's executive chef, Wong Man-su. 'She has shown so much interest and potential,' Mr Wong said. 'This is a profession that does not pay well for novices. Very few women are interested in the working environment. I am glad that IFT has cultivated a student like Agnes.' Fourth-year students at IFT can work a job of their choice during the day and attend classes in the evenings. But Agnes wants to gain as much experience as possible in the food and beverage industry. On weekends, she works at the Mandarin Oriental kitchen to get a taste of her profession in the real world. Unfortunately, her ultimate goal is to leave the former Portuguese enclave. She is looking for work and educational opportunities in Europe. 'In Macau, bakers at a five-star hotel's kitchen earn 4,000 to 5,000 patacas a month,' Agnes said. 'With a university degree, I am reluctant to start my career at that level.'