Organised by the Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs (Singapore) or the SCCC, the 2018 Top 10 Chinese Chefs Championship presented by Maggi saw eager young chefs putting up modern Chinese plates.
This is not the first time the SCCC has organised local competitions nor is it on the largest scale. But chef Pung Lu Tin, advisor to the SCCC and director of Gim Tim Group of restaurants Singapore, says it is regularity they’re after, so that young chefs get ample opportunities to test their mettle. Such meets also help the society identify talents for international competitions such as The Lee Kum Kee International Young Chef Chinese Culinary Challenge to be held in Hong Kong this September.
To that end, 25 young chefs from restaurants across the island gathered at The Sapling, Enabling Village on 6 June. Each put up a main dish using at least two Maggi products and earned bonus points if they managed to incorporate four special ingredients: Nestlé Docello Chocolate Mousse, Buitoni Coulis de Tomate, Nestlé soy bean powder and Nestlé mashed potato powder. The top 10 will be unveiled at the SCCC’s dinner at the end of the month.
The diverse range of dishes put up impressed the judging panel, comprising Pung, chef Eric Neo, executive chef of InterContinental Singapore, vice president of the Singapore Chefs Association (SCA); executive Chinese chef Ku Keung, Conrad Centennial Singapore; and Cynthia Quek, country business manager, Nestlé Professional.
Says Pung, “We felt that most of the contestants achieved a certain standard and were able to put up creative dishes that still retained elements of authentic Chinese cuisine. For instance, a number of them took up the challenge of using chocolate—an ingredient that is rarely used in Chinese dessert, much less a main course. Some contestants used this ingredient well, balancing its sweet notes with salty and spicy. Others turned soybean powder into different kinds of tofu or incorporated mash potato powder in unusual ways. We could really see effort in their dishes. When you put in effort, you make the best dish.”
One chef who got creative with chocolate was Paul Leong, 24, a chef de partie from Jia Yan Restaurant at Boon Lay Way. He made a dish called Fusion, using ingredients such as Nestlé Docello Chocolate Mousse, Nestlé soya bean powder and Buitoni Coulis de Tomate. He says, “I made a ‘chocolate ice cream’ featuring braised foie gras encased by a chocolate layer; a cold ‘tri-coloured tofu’ made with wheatgrass (green), carrot juice (orange), and charcoal (black), topped with fresh sea urchin; and ginger sauce chicken wings stuffed with mixed-grain rice. The last component is paired with a tomato-gochujang sauce that is reminiscent of Singapore chicken rice chilli sauce.” Leong says he used chocolate as he wanted to challenge himself with using an ingredient that is not commonly used in Chinese cuisine. He was also inspired by his head chef at Jia Yan, who frequently thinks little of adding a new spin to dishes.
Chef de partie Steven Tan, 29, on the other hand, was thinking about a fresh and crisp landscape after a rainy day, when he created his dish of baked cod fish stuffed with scallop mousse, paired with yuzu and XO sauce and accompanied by yuzu caviar tofu. The chef, who joined La Brasserie restaurant, Fullerton Bay Hotel after stints at Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant and the TungLok Group, explains, “The green colour of the tofu depicts green grass after a rainy day, while the white of the scallop mousse resembles pillowy white clouds.” As he thought just using cod fish as his main ingredient would be too bland, he added another fish to the mix. “Initially I thought of using salmon mousse, but I wasn’t happy with the mouthfeel,” he says. “I eventually settled on scallop mousse, which adds freshness, a soft texture and another depth of flavour.” He complemented the codfish with carrot puree, a side of stir-fried carrots, asparagus and romanescu, and a yuzu and an XO sauce. “It’s not too common to serve a yuzu and XO sauce together. But I thought the two would go well, giving a spicy, tangy, yet refreshing flavour to the dish.”
Face of the Future
On the largely modern Chinese presentations seen at the competition, Pung says this largely stems from the requirement to prepare one main dish and the little opportunities that the young chefs have in their daily work to present something that deviates from traditional Chinese dishes. But he has noticed that modern Chinese cooking has been on the rise, particularly after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) period in 2013 when diners increasingly requested for individually-plated dishes typically found in European cuisine. It is a demand that Chinese chefs are catering to even now, and a trend that any rising young Chinese chef needed to be aware of.
For chef Lim Yat Keong, 28, demi-chef, Crockfords Club, Resorts World Sentosa, who put up beef medallion in a mashed potato crust or a Chinese version of beef wellington, his modern Chinese dish was exemplified by marinating the beef with a Chinese-style seasoning, combined with using a puff pastry typically used in Western cuisine. He adds, “I put in some special touches by adding fried cereal to the beef for added texture, and by adding mash potato powder and fresh milk to the pastry, making it more flavourful, aromatic and slightly chewier.”
The creativity and openness these chefs have shown augur well for the next generation of Chinese cuisine chefs, whether or not they are locally bred and born. As it stands, the SCCC has over 300 members, out of which 50 to 60 are Singaporeans or Permanent Residents.
Says Pung,“I would say about 80 per cent of chefs in Chinese restaurants here are Malaysian chefs. Not more than 10 per cent of chefs joining the F&B industry are Singaporeans, and out of that, just about roughly two per cent go into Chinese cuisine.” But he says raising the standard of Chinese cuisine chefs in Singapore in nationality-blind. “As long as they are working in the Chinese restaurant industry, their dishes represent Singapore Chinese cuisine.” Of which improving skills and raising profiles are just what small steps like this competition hope to achieve.