The alumni from hospitality training school Shatec Institutes read like the who's who of the Singapore food world.

There is chef Justin Quek, 51, who, after graduating, went on to work in France and then became the first Singaporean to be appointed personal chef to the French ambassador here.

He now has restaurants in Taipei and Shanghai. In Singapore, he has Sky On 57, perched atop Marina Bay Sands.

There is restaurateur Ignatius Chan, 50, who, together with chef Quek, started upscale Les Amis, which opened 19 years ago to rave reviews. Today, Mr Chan continues to make waves with his award-winning Iggy's at The Hilton.

Other names come thick and fast: chef Tony Khoo, 52, executive chef of Marina Mandarin Singapore; pastry chef Pang Kok Keong, 38, who headed Canele and then went on to start another patisserie chain, Antoinette; and Dylan Ong, 26, and Joshua Khoo, 28, who worked in fine-dining restaurants before starting Saveur. They are winning fans and drawing queues for serving French food at everyday prices in their restaurants in Purvis Street and Far East Plaza.

Their success is due in no small part to the fact that Shatec, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, provides not just a foundation for students but also anticipates the kind of skills they will need when they get jobs in the industry.

Its chief executive Margaret Heng, 52, a petite woman with a calm demeanour, is canny about spotting trends and turning them into opportunities to better train her charges.

As well as being CEO of Shatec, she is also executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), which started the school in 1983 to provide a stream of skilled people for the hotel industry.

Ms Heng, who went to Raffles Girls' School and National Junior College, graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in administration and financial studies.

She accepted a job offer from SHA, which today represents 127 hotels, because she enjoys meeting people.

In 1984, she went over to help Shatec with cost administration.

Since it started in July 1983, the school, now located in Bukit Batok, has turned out 30,000 graduates. It takes in 500 to 600 new students a year and the student population is about 1,000, including those doing work stints in hotels.

Three decades in the business and she is still brimming with ideas to boost the curriculum.

She has, perhaps, reason to do so.

For years, Shatec was the only place people wanting a career in hospitality or cooking could go to in Singapore.

Now, students can choose from programmes in polytechnics, the Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) and At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, among others.

Those wanting more than the certificates and diplomas Shatec and these institutions offer can also enrol in the Culinary Institute of America, which ties up with the Singapore Institute of Technology to award degrees.

Shatec is planning to tie up with a university to offer degree programmes within three to five years, she says.

In September, it will also start a Diploma in Tourism (Mice and Travel) under the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system.

The 11/2-year course focuses on the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) and events sector.

It has been growing, especially since the integrated resorts opened in 2010, and looks to be the bright spot in an industry where tourism growth is expected to slow over the next decade.

Shatec started talking to students about social media two years ago as part of the Diploma in Hotel Management course and has expanded its scope.

Ms Heng says: "We started with what it is and how it is a platform for marketing.

"Now, we are talking about the pitfalls, telling students that if they don't use it right, it could hurt their reputation."

So students go through how they should respond to the sometimes vehement comments posted on travel websites such as TripAdvisor, among other things.

She adds that the school has been in touch with representatives from TripAdvisor, search engine Google and review and social media site Yelp to talk to its students.

Although the school aims to train people for the hotel industry, she thinks there is room to add hawker food to its syllabus, which already covers Asian and local food.

Preserving Singapore's hawker heritage is important, she says, lamenting the closure of a favourite char kway teow stall in Hillview Estate, where she grew up.

"It is something very Singaporean. If we don't do it, it will be very sad," she says. "And we don't just want hawker food, we want good hawker food. Tradition is important."

So, it would seem, is looking ahead.

The school is at the tail end of a $3- million refurbishment, and among the new features is a bar laboratory, where students can learn the art of mixology.

In fact, at the school's restaurant, Recipes at The Treasury building in High Street, students offer to make cocktails tableside for diners, after asking them what they feel like drinking.

Ms Heng got this idea from her two children, Cheryl, 25, who works in a retail company, and Clare, 21, who is studying finance and accountancy in Britain.

They told her about a bar they went to, where the mixologists came up with cocktails on the spot.

"What the industry is doing, we should be doing," she says.

There are also plans to provide barista training as an enrichment programme from next year, with an eye on the burgeoning coffee scene here.

Other plans tumble out of her.

She wants to design a course for middle-managers in the hospitality industry.

"Right now, people think we only train rank-and-file workers. But middle management can be the weakest or strongest link in retaining staff."

There is a gleam in her eye when she talks about how she wants to design a programme that will deliver what she calls "service with soul".

It is a lofty goal in an industry that is finding it hard to attract workers, to offer competent service, much less service with soul.

Yet, she has given herself three years to achieve what she calls a programme so special that people would know instantly if they are being attended to by someone who has gone through the course.

But at the back of her mind is the constant reminder that she and her staff have to make sure their students stay grounded.

When the school first started, it attracted students who thought the industry was one in which they could earn a living.

Over the years, however, the school has attracted students who are inspired to go to cooking school by "Jamie Oliver and the like", she says, referring to the famous British chef who has sold millions of cookbooks, stars in his own successful television cooking shows and has his own lines of kitchen equipment and food.

"We try to bring our students down to earth," she says. "Trainers tell them it is all about hard work. There's no automatic fame."

That is a lesson chef Eric Teo, 50, knows well.

The Shatec graduate from 1987 has worked in luxury hotels, was former head of the Singapore Chefs Association, and is a television personality, celebrity chef and culinary consultant.

He credits Shatec with inspiring him to become a chef.

While waiting tables at Nutmegs, a restaurant in what was then the Hyatt Regency, he was asked whether he wanted to be in the kitchen instead. He agreed and was sent to Shatec, then located at Nassim Hill, to take its food preparation course.

He says: "During my time there, I saw students taking part in culinary competitions and winning. That inspired me. The trainers were also very committed."

The chef has vivid memories of some of his teachers.

One of them was Mr Wilson Tang, who, when explaining to students the different cuts of beef, would use his own body.

"Things were not very high tech at the time," chef Teo says wryly.

Now, he helps Shatec out by promoting the school every chance he gets. He also gives career talks to students, does cooking demonstrations in the school and attends graduation ceremonies.

Another successful graduate is Mr Arthur Kiong, chief executive of Far East Hospitality, part of Far East Organization. He oversees the company's hospitality business, including hotels and serviced residences management, branding, sales and marketing and new business development.

The 53-year-old was a popular radio DJ before enrolling in Shatec. He made the career switch because he thought his prospects at what was then the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation were limited by the fact that he had A-level qualifications and not a degree.

Shatec, he says, was difficult.

"I was fairly popular and well known as a media personality by then. I had to start over: clearing tables, taking orders and setting tables," he says.

"It was very humbling but I reasoned that Singapore has only one radio station but many hotels. I cannot let a monopoly decide my future."

He remembers Ms Heng as being helpful and professional.

"I don't think I have ever heard her raise her voice at anyone."

He graduated with a Higher Diploma in Hotel Management in 1985.

Asked about the most valuable lessons he learnt, he says: "Humility, patience and respect for the service craft. Service is not about performing a function but the creation of an experience, which if done well, will be memorable and worth paying for."

Like them, Ms Heng, one of five children of a coffee-shop operator and a housewife, stays grounded.

She is married to Mr Siow Chow Sid, 54, an administrator at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. While she meets regularly with hoteliers, she says she does not have lavish taste in food.

"I am quite easy about food," she says. "I prefer simple fare."

She and her family go to a coffee shop along Sixth Avenue on Sunday mornings for wonton noodles.

"I'm a noodle person," she says.

Other favourites include New Garo Japanese Restaurant in Chun Tin Road, near the family's home in Toh Tuck; Nanbantei, a yakitori restaurant in Far East Plaza; and breakfast at Sky On 57 at MBS.

And everywhere she goes, she must surely meet Shatec graduates.

She says: "We are a brand that people can trust. The fact that we have many graduates doing well in the industry attests to that.

"Their success is our success and vice versa."