Rachel and I are both fans of celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay and his fiery temper. We love to watch him scolding people after a hard day at work to unwind.
When we knew Singtel has gotten him to come to Singapore in a Hawker Heroes Challenge, both of us knew we have to attend the event.
In the contest held at Newton Food Centre, more than 1000 members of the public started queuing from 1am the night before to witness the exciting culinary showdown and sampled chicken rice, laksa and chilli crab prepared by Chef Ramsay and three popular Singapore hawkers (Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, 328 Katong Laksa and Jumbo Seafood Restaurant).
Lucky for us, we had a media pass from Singtel and Rachel was able to cut the queue.
Here are the dishes whipped up by Gordon Ramsay and the three hawkers:
Rachel’s verdict was similar to mine after we both blind tasted all the dishes – we voted for the hawkers for the chicken rice and laksa dishes, but chose Chef Ramsay’s dish for chili crab.
Chef Ramsay had a very difficult task. These three dishes are all familiar everyday dishes to many Singaporeans, and it is hard to compete against familiar tastes.
We have pre-conceived notions of what a dish like laksa is and ought to taste like. While Chef Ramsay can try to improve on it, he will still lose the taste test as Singaporeans may find his flavours unfamiliar.
The unfamiliar element was the strongest for me in Chef Ramsay’s laksa dish. While the broth was palatable and delicious, it does not taste distinctly like the laksa I am familiar with and appears more like a foreign dish masquerading as laksa by mimicking the flavours.
For the chili crab, on first bite, I wanted to pick the Jumbo’s version, finding comfort in the familiar taste. However, after a few more mouth of the gravy, Chef Ramsay’s version is more flavourful and lingered longer in taste.
This is the first time Rachel and I tried out something cooked by Chef Ramsay himself. It is a wonderful experience for foodies, and kudos to the team at Singtel for working on a national-scale campaign like this.
Diners were asked to vote for our preferred version of each dish. In the end, the Singapore hawker heroes narrowly edged-out Chef Ramsay in the live poll by 6 per cent of the total vote in the closely contested battle. In each dish category, Tian Tian Chicken Rice won by 6 per cent, 328 Katong Laksa by 19 per cent and Chef Ramsay’s version of Chilli Crab triumphed by 5 per cent.
Chef Ramsay said: “It’s been phenomenal to see how passionate the people of Singapore are about their hawker fare. The hawkers have impressed me with their ability to whip-up dishes with such amazing flavours. Now that I’ve experienced the best of Singapore cuisine, I can say without doubt the people of Singapore have much to be proud of – authentic, genuine, simple food, that is of amazing quality and full of flavour.”
Mdm Foo Kui Lian, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, said: “I enjoyed teaching Chef Ramsay the art of making chicken rice. Although his version was very unique, it was still very appetising. The SingTel Hawker Heroes challenge was a wonderful celebration of the good food we have here in Singapore.”
Mr Ang Kiam Meng, Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, said: “The contest was a great way to recognise the skills and talent of our local hawkers. Chilli crab is an iconic Singapore dish that takes many years to master and we are glad that it was featured in the contest. We are confident that the people of Singapore will continue to support our hawkers and keep our unique food culture alive.”
Mr Ryan Koh, 328 Katong Laksa, said: “We are grateful to our friends, family and supporters for voting for us, and to SingTel for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to challenge a world famous chef like Gordon Ramsay. It was a truly amazing experience!”
The three hawkers were chosen out of a group of 12 popular hawkers to take on Chef Ramsay through an online poll that sparked national interest. More than 2.5 million votes were cast over 8 days, with the three hawkers garnering approximately 320,000 votes each.
In June, seven of Singapore’s most well-regarded food bloggers with the support of SingTel had issued an invite to Chef Ramsay, to help determine if our hawker food has what it takes to match up to the prestigious standards of the world renowned Michelin guide.
This invite was issued amidst concerns about the future of Singapore’s hawker heritage, with fewer picking up the craft from the current generation of hawkers. It also aims to address the debate among foodies whether our hawkers are as talented as Michelin-starred chefs and if international recognition would boost the hawker trade.