Earlier, I wrote a blog post about my experiences at the SingTel Hawker Heroes cooking competition, where Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay pitted himself against our top local hawkers. They whipped up chicken rice, laksa and chilli crab at the Newton Circus hawker centre last Sunday.
Singapore won the competition, two votes to one.
Now that it has concluded, here are some of my afterthoughts.
Hawker Centre Venue
Newton Circus is a good place to have the cook-off, because it is in a central area and it is also a well-known hawker centre in Singapore, where both locals and tourists flock to, for Singaporean cuisine.
The hawker centre venue puts our local hawker heroes at a clear advantage because they are used to cooking in a sweltering and sweaty environment, compared to Ramsay. This was a competition to cook the best hawker cuisines, so the hawker environment was completely apt and a good choice by SingTel.
Voting for the dishes to represent Singapore
SingTel’s idea of public voting to choose the dishes to represent Singapore was fair. If SingTel themselves had simply chosen dishes that Ramsay was to cook, there would definitely be an uproar.
However, SingTel could have asked people to nominate the initial categories of cuisines too, because there was a huge debate in the first place, as to why chilli crab had been chosen, when it is not an actual hawker dish. It is uniquely Singaporean, yes, but this dish is usually enjoyed in a coffee shop or restaurant setting, I must admit.
That said, here are a couple of suggestions that could have made the event more successful and the results more reflective of the true Singaporean palate.
Having a blind tasting
I noticed that the taste-test was not a blind one. The voters knew exactly whose food they were putting into their mouths and they may have unconsciously been influenced by this. As a result, Ramsay’s adoring fans could have simply voted for him, in all three categories, regardless of the flavour of the food.
But if the taste-test had been a blind one, and the dishes simply labelled “Set A” and “Set B” then voters would have had no clue as to who they were voting for. As a result, they would have voted purely on the taste of the food. In this way, the competition would have been much fairer.
Skewed age of the voters
From my observations, many of the taste-testers and voters were the younger crowd and not so many middle-aged and senior citizens. Many of these young people would have grown up watching Western television shows, including Ramsay’s cooking shows. So once again, the voting and eventual results may not have reflected accurately, the Singaporean taste buds.
If there was a wider spread of the Singapore population and an equal amount of people consisting of all age groups present, then the voting would have been more reflective of what Singaporeans truly think.
But that said, I must concede that it may have been hard to control who turned up to eat and vote for the food, because the format was on a first-come-first-serve basis. People who are younger and more energetic would have more stamina to come down and queue up for the food, compared to older Singaporeans.
As a whole, this cook-off was definitely a very effective publicity stunt by SingTel and they indeed got the attention that they had intended by putting their names behind it, and bringing Ramsay to Singapore for it.
But that said, I still don’t quite think that the competition was a very accurate reflection of Michelin-starred Ramsay versus Singapore hawker prepared food – that is, which food was actually the winner.