The New Paper
Sep 2, 2015
Who says Singaporeans like to play it safe?
Meet local aspiring chefs Lennard Yeong, Woo Wai Leong and Sandrian Tan, who have all gone through extremes to join the inaugural season of reality TV cooking series MasterChef Asia.
Two of them even quit their high-paying jobs - Mr Yeong, 27, was an engineer and Mr Woo, 27, a lawyer.
Fifteen contestants from around Asia had to film in an undisclosed location in Singapore for an uninterrupted period of six weeks.
As a result, those who couldn't take a break from work had to make the difficult decision of sacrificing their careers.
MasterChef Asia is the spin-off of the original 90s series MasterChef (UK), featuring amateur cooks in challenges that test their creativity, discipline and ability to perform under pressure in the kitchen, while vying to escape elimination each week.
It premieres tomorrow at 9pm on Lifetime (StarHub TV Ch 514).
The winner will get to publish his or her own cookbook, receive US$50,000 (S$70,700) cash and a paid internship at one of Carlton Hotel Singapore's restaurants, among other prizes.
Mr Yeong and Mr Woo, both currently unemployed, are taking it all in their stride.
Mr Yeong told The New Paper: "Quitting was easy, deciding to quit was the difficult part. It took a while and was a big decision. I knew that if I left the industry, I wouldn't want to come back to it.
"My parents were supportive so that gave me the confidence to go ahead and do it."
Mr Woo said that he knew his heart wasn't in his previous job anymore when he told his law firm that he wanted to take a leave of absence to film the show.
"So I think quitting my job was pretty okay for me... it was a pretty cordial event."
He added jokingly: "At this point, being unemployed is quite refreshing. But the refreshing feeling will go away pretty soon."
And why did the pair take such drastic action?
Mr Woo, a self-professed passionate food geek, said his dream was to cook for a living.
Added Mr Yeong, who learnt to cook from watching culinary videos on YouTube and reading cook books: "I wanted to raise the bar and take myself from being a home cook to cooking on a professional level. My mum, who used to complain about the messes I made in the kitchen... even she believes in me now."
On the other hand, Ms Tan, 41, a housewife, had trouble keeping her involvement in the show a secret.
She was not allowed to tell anyone apart from immediate family members, and some of her friends thought she had gone away to be a nun.
She said: "I had told some people that I was posted to China (for a job) and then I forgot and told others that I was going to Thailand. I even had to lie to my own father as we all had to sign the non-disclosure agreement."
Mr Yeong, who said he didn't believe in lying, just avoided replying to his friends' messages during those six weeks.
"I don't have many friends left," he said, laughing.
At the press conference for MasterChef Asia at the Carlton City Hotel last Wednesday, the three Singapore cooks had to participate in a Mystery Box Challenge which saw them whipping up dishes with ingredients presented to them on the spot.
Even though Mr Yeong won with his prawn tacos, MasterChef Asia's judges - Hong Kong-born celebrity chef Susur Lee, Singapore-born MasterChef Australia Season 4 finalist Audra Morrice and three-Michelin starred French chef Bruno Menard - were suitably impressed with the trio.
The judges felt that rather than enjoying a home advantage because the show was filmed here, the local representatives were actually under much more pressure to win.
Mr Menard told The New Paper: "When you play in your hometown, you better win because everyone is supporting you... The heart of the country is beating for you, there is so much more pressure."
Lee said he found it extremely impressive that the trio were able to rise above all the challenges.
He said: "They articulated themselves very well and were so friendly with everyone, sharing their dishes and recipes. (This tells me) their confidence level was high and they felt secure to open their arms to everyone. What a great spirit these Singaporeans have."
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