A hush of silence filled the air. The audience waited with bated breath.
The three Singaporean MasterChef Asia contestants – Lennard Yeong, Woo Wai Leong and Sandrian Tan – gingerly lifted up the lid of the Mystery Boxes placed in front of them.
Yeong, 27, a former engineer, prides himself on his aesthetic sensibilities and plating skills and he hopes to use MasterChef Asia as a stepping stone to pursuing his culinary passion and make it big as a a professional chef.
Woo,, also 27, a lawyer, considers himself as a self-professed food geek and loves reading about food and experimenting with basic ingredients. He hopes to find fulfilment in a culinary career and strongly believes that he has the talent and ability to be the first MasterChef Asia.
Tan, a 41-year-old home-maker, worked in the semiconductor industry for eight years prior to becoming a home-maker. But Tan, whose memories of cooking, date back to helping her mother in the kitchen, considers herself a strong contender in MasterChef Asia and she too, hopes to use the competition as a stepping stone to pursue a culinary career.
Mystery Box is an iconic challenge in the MasterChef series worldwide
The Mystery Box – where contestants are each given a box comprising the same ingredients and are required to make use of them to prepare a dish of their choice – is an iconic challenge in the MasterChef series worldwide.
Everyone craned their necks and stared up at the stage. What was inside the box?
Pineapple. An Egg. Ginger. Brussels sprouts. Just to name a small few of the items that I spotted inside there.
Contestants digested the ingredients and started cooking
Several seconds passed as the three contestants took a look at the ingredients and thought long and hard about the dish that they would cook. They had half an hour to not only think of the dish, but also to prepare and plate it up.
But like true professionals, the three Singaporeans were quickly down to business. This was despite the fact that in this ‘episode’ there would be no elimination for any of them.
There was plenty of scurrying in the kitchen as they sorted out ingredients and started working on their dishes. Yes, preparing food meant serious business for these contestants.
As they continued working, delicious aromas of freshly-prepared food started to fill the air. My mouth was starting to water profusely, as a delicious smell wafted through my nose.
The minutes ticked by but contestants remained calm
At the same time, the minutes ticked by. But the chefs remained cool, calm and collected and was very sure of themselves in this particular challenge.
Thirty seconds left. The judges were doing a countdown.
Five, Four, Three, Two, One. The buzzer sounded.
Presenting their fully-plated dishes to the judges
This meant that the cooking part was now over. It was time to present their fully-plated dish to the judges.
First up was Woo. As he collected his nerves and carried his plate towards the judges, all of us in the audience watched eagerly.
The three MasterChef Asia Judges
Then it was the turn of Tan and then Yeong. They were both confident as they presented their masterpieces to the three judges – Susur Lee, Audra Morrice and Bruno Menard.
These three judges all have massive experience in the culinary world. Lee has been praised as one of the Ten Chefs of the Millennium in 2000 by Food & Wine Magazine. He also helms four restaurants in Toronto and has made appearances on well-known television shows across the world, such as Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters.
Morrice was one of the favourite contestants on MasterChef Australia 2012 and produced some amazing and consistent dishes. Today she is running a successful catering business in Australia and also holds regular cooking classes in Sydney and Singapore. And she hosts her own televised cooking show, Tasty Conversations in Australia and has recently launched a range of food products. Morrice has a cookbook that is due for release later this year too – and she pre-released two copes during this meet & greet session.
Menard is a three-star Michelin chef and has established some of the best restaurants in Asia and Singapore, serving neoclassic French dishes with a Japanese twist. He also runs a top-tier culinary consulting firm in Singapore where he lives together with his wife.
At the end of the presentation session, the three judges had voted Tan’s dish – Coconut Ginger Prawns with Prawn Omelette served on Pineapple Salsa and Pickled Daikons – as the winner.
According to the judges, it was a well-balanced dish with many flavours, including being salty, sweet, sour and bitter. It had a bit of everything in there. As well, it was very pretty and cute and they liked the fact that the dish used humble ingredients.
Taken place at a fans meet & greet session
This intriguing mystery box challenge had taken place at a fans meet & greet session for the MasterChef Asia contestants and judges – during the weekend at NEX Serangoon.
At this session, invited guests and members of the public got to mingle with the three Singaporean contestants and the judges, as well as to have a sneak peek into the MasterChef kitchen set. I found it all very impressive indeed – and I can’t wait to watch the inaugural episode tonight.
MasterChef Asia premieres tonight
Premiering tonight, 9pm on Lifetime Channel, MasterChef Asia brings together 15 aspiring home cooks from across Asia in the inaugural season of this pan-regional English version of the worldwide television cooking franchise. Episodes will take place from the MasterChef kitchen, to off-site and overseas challenges, and will culminate in one of the amateur home-cooks winning the title of the first-ever MasterChef Asia – and thus kick-starting their culinary career.
The first few episodes will see the contestants serving VIP guests on the iconic Singapore Flyer and trying to win the votes of the public in cooking local cuisine at famous local hawker centre, Lau Par Sat. As well they will be up against the dreaded Mystery Box and also have to prepare a dish that they consider will best represent themselves.
Catch the season premiere of the inaugural MasterChef Asia tonight, 3 September, at 9pm (Singapore) on Lifetime Channel (StarHub TV Channel 514).