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A Blooming Good Outing For This Chef At Bocuse d'Or

STORY: Ng Kai
09 October 2021
Talk about a feast for the eyes! Bocuse d'Or candidate Mathew Leong's culinary marvel was inspired by Gardens by the Bay.
Talk about a feast for the eyes! Bocuse d'Or candidate Mathew Leong's culinary marvel was inspired by Gardens by the Bay. | Photos: Mathew Leong

If you thought all there was to culinary competitions were series like "Hell's Kitchen" and "The Final Table", it's time to wake up and smell the umami.

Enter the Bocuse d’Or aka the Olympics of the gourmet world. Considered the most prestigious culinary competition in the world, it sees chefs from all over the world putting their best foot, or rather, best food forward.

Fun fact: Did you know Singapore has competed in the Bocuse d’Or competition 12 times - our Little Red Dot's highest achievement was a Bronze in 1989.

This year's competition took place in Lyon, France, and Team Singapore sent our youngest-ever candidate, chef Mathew Leong to represent our island nation. The dashing 26-year-old – who is also head chef at Michelin Plate Restaurant À L'aise in Oslo, Norway – finished in the top 12 out of 21 countries.

A sibei commendable effort, bro!

We can totally tell that you were inspired by Gardens by the Bay - we see one of the Supertrees and many mini Cloud Domes! Why this attraction?

Singapore is known as a Garden City, with natural elements woven into its architecture. As the theme for this year’s competition placed a strong emphasis on sustainability and nature, I wanted to showcase Singapore’s commitment to being the world’s greenest city, hence for both the “platter” challenge and “takeaway box” challenge, I was strongly inspired by one of our most popular, widely known and iconic pieces of architecture and attraction - the Gardens by the Bay.

I chose Gardens by the Bay to be the main focus because apart from it being recognised internationally, there are many other elements and attractions like the Supertrees and Cloud Dome which I can bring to life through my food by employing the use of innovations and technologies – both I strongly believe will shape the future of food.

(From left) Team SG comprised Ulrik Jepsen (coach), Mathew Leong (candidate), and Sebastian Skauen Johnsen (Commis).
(From left) Team SG comprised Ulrik Jepsen (coach), Mathew Leong (candidate), and Sebastian Skauen Johnsen (Commis). | Photo: Mathew Leong

Clearly, your hardworking ethic has paid off – taking you from head chef to Bocuse d’Or candidate. What are your key takeaways from the competition and future goals?

Since this is my first time at Bocuse d’Or, I've no doubt that I've learned a lot, but the team has also taught me a lot during our one week together - how we can achieve so much when we work together as a team. They have shown me what a dream team is supposed to be like, and I am really fortunate to get the opportunity to work with these driven young individuals.

Even though we did not achieve the results that we desired, I believe that this whole experience is a stepping stone to greater things ahead. I will continue to train hard and apply everything that I have learnt and gained from the competition and come back stronger for Bocuse d’Or 2025.

While four years from now may seem like a long time, I have already started preparing and training for the competition. My goal is to move up the ranks and enter top 10.

Let’s talk hawker food. What are some everyday dishes that seem quite simple but actually have a very sophisticated taste profile?

[Singapore is] home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal, and there’s no doubt our hawker food is exceptional. Chicken rice for example may seem like a simple dish with the combination of rice and chicken, but the rice itself holds the key to the dish - it is fried with oil from the chicken fat, garlic and sesame to produce that aromatic fragrance. The chicken also needs to be tender and juicy.

You confirm crave Singapore food since you’ve been based overseas for quite a while, right? What are your top cravings?

All the local food and drinks that cannot be found in Norway! Besides my mum’s signature dishes - Cantonese steamed fish and stir-fried beef with scallions, I really miss eating local food like ou jian, hokkien mee, chilli crab, satay, and drinking my favourite teh-peng. It’s been more than two years since I last came home due to the ongoing pandemic, so I really miss eating our local food.

What are some of the weirdest or funniest misconceptions that foreigners have about Singapore food?

I think one of the funniest misconceptions is about Singapore noodles. Despite its name, Singapore noodles, a dish of stir-fried cooked rice vermicelli, curry powder, vegetables, scrambled eggs and meat, can hardly be found in Singapore - it’s a dish that originated from Hong Kong.

(From left) Ulrik, Mathew, Sebastian take a wefie with Singapore celebrity chef Eric Teo.
(From left) Ulrik, Mathew, Sebastian take a wefie with Singapore celebrity chef Eric Teo. | Photo: Mathew Leong

Did your fellow competitors have trouble understanding your Singlish?

Maybe because I have been spending more than five years in Norway, working alongside the locals, I do not have the habit of conversing in Singlish in my everyday life. There's no doubt that Singlish is what makes Singaporeans different, so I haven't forgotten it at all. It’s just that in Norway, I do not get the chance to use it as people around me are from different parts of the world, and there isn’t a Singaporean whom I can talk to in Singlish.

However, it did feel really nice to be able to speak in hokkien and Singlish with celebrity chef Eric Teo during our time in Lyon earlier for Bocuse d’Or - it truly gave me a sense of familiarity.

Ok, come, tell us about your NS and what you think of combat rations!

I served in the artillery unit during my National Service. To be honest, I think some of the food like the red bean soup actually tastes pretty good for a combat ration!

Seems like you are always gunning for more. Share some of your ambitious goals with us!

My next aim in my career is to own a fine dining restaurant that is listed in the Michelin guide. My goal is to earn my first Michelin star within one year of opening and be the youngest chef to own a three-starred Michelin restaurant before the age of 31.

Besides owning a fine dining restaurant, I’d also like to have my own chain of bistros around the world, which specialise in Asian cuisine that have a Nordic influence. Though I am based here in Norway, as a Singaporean, it’d be great to open my own restaurant in my homeland, before expanding my footprint across the region.

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TAGS: Exceptional People , Food
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