Neo Jun Hao, formerly from Ding Dong and now chef de partie with COLLIN’S, wins the Young Talents Escoffier Asia selection in Hong Kong and will advance to the world finals in Bordeaux in March 2019.
Chefs know well that Rome was not made in a day. Their craft is made of endless toil in the kitchen, perfecting techniques from filleting fish to frenching a chicken leg. That’s perhaps why little victories are all the more celebrated, for the sum they add to the whole.
Last week, chef Neo Jun Hao, better known as Hobbit, added another feather to Singapore’s toque when he emerged champion at the annual Young Talents Escoffier (YTE) Asia selection held at Restaurant & Bar Hong Kong. Organised by the Asia arm of Disciples Escoffier International—a 30,000-strong global network celebrating the spirit of Auguste Escoffier, father of modern French cuisine—the competition pits young chefs below 25 in a test of culinary skills.
This year’s brief was to prepare for eight persons, a salmon fillet with three garnishes and a classic sauce Genevoise or fish-based sauce. Neo’s winning dish was king salmon done two ways—slow-cooked king salmon with aromatic vegetables and scallop, and torch smoked king salmon belly topped with fragrant grains—served with a petit pois tartlet, mushroom ragout and croquette of celeriac and potato. This is the second time in a row that Singapore did well at this competition. Last year, Koh Han Jie, then chef de partie of Les Amis and now head chef of COLLIN’s, clinched the Asia title and went on to clinch the world title in Zurich in March 2018.
Sharing what gave him an edge among the nine contestants representing Hong Kong, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Macau, Cambodia, China and Singapore, Neo said, “I arrived in Hong Kong a few days before the competition and had the opportunity to learn from a few Singaporean chef mentors based in Hong Kong, namely, chefs Yew Eng Tong and Edward Voon from LE PAN, and chef Peter Teo from Bistro du Vin, Hong Kong. In particular, chefs Yew and Voon helped me to refine my dish. I think the judges were impressed by my sauce and the overall flavours and refinement of the dish.”
A step-by-step approach helped him achieve his win. At the Singapore selection organised by Disciples Escoffier International, Singapore Delegation (D@E for short) or the Singapore chapter of Disciples Escoffier, he came up tops with his dish of poularde à la Paysanne or poached chicken breast in aromatic court bouillon, chicken roulade with herbs chicken mousse, thyme confit winglet, savoury mushroom tartlet, and potato de terre à la crème, served with Allemande sauce.
In the lead-up to the Asia selection, apart from training by his former head chef at Ding Dong, Miller Mai, he was mentored by Anderson Ho, executive chef (airline catering) and business development manager for Snorre Food; last year’s winner Koh Han Jie; and Patrick Heuberger, executive chef of atout restaurant, charcuterie and wine bar.
Says Neo of the mentorship he received from Koh, Ho and Patrick, “It was such an honour to be mentored by them. One is the former YTE world champion while the other has mentored the Singapore national team. To prepare for the YTE Asia selection, Hanjie helped me by sharing with me his experience, and giving tips about how to approach the competition. Because the main protein for the competition was salmon, chef Anderson, who’s an expert in fish, was particularly helpful, advising me about the technique of handling the salmon, from cutting to cooking and improving my timings.”
Neo’s next move is to join Koh as chef de partie in the latter’s first head chef role at El Feugo, a new contemporary European restaurant by COLLIN’S slated to open at Jewel Changi Airport in the first half of next year. This opportunity was facilitated by chef Edmund Toh, honorary president of D@E and vice president–culinary of COLLIN’S. Apart from taking up his new position, Neo is gearing up for an exciting and challenging year ahead, competitions-wise. “Moving forward, I am excited as my team and I will be competing in the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg in November. Thereafter, I will gear up for the YTE world finals in Bordeaux in March next year.”
This is an updated version of ‘Paying it Forward’, a story on D@E that was first published in Wine & Dine’s Sep/Oct 2018 issue – Behind The Scenes At Singapore’s Top Restaurants as a Special Feature. D@E, Singapore is fully supported by e2i.