Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the hottest news happening this weekend is Gordon Ramsay’s cookoff against three of Singapore’s most famous hawker dishes — chicken rice, Katong laksa, and chilli crab — in the Singtel Hawker Heroes Challenge.
I was at Newton Circus food centre as invited media to sample the dishes and vote for the winners. Here’s the action in pictures:
The turn-out was sheer madness! The organizers had planned for 1,000 attendees, but judging from the crowd, I think the number was much higher. The event was scheduled to start at 6pm on Sunday, 7 July 2013, but early birds started queuing at 1am the night before!
Just before the challenge began, host KF Seetoh introduced Gordon Ramsay and the three hawkers he would be competing against — (standing on the left of Gordon Ramsay) Ryan Koh of 328 Katong Laksa, Ang Kiam Meng of Jumbo Restaurant, and Madam Foo Kui Lian of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Gordon Ramsay was very charming and friendly, very unlike his stern demeanour on Hell’s Kitchen. He handed out tasting platters to attendees and even went around to chat and take photos with fans.
From time to time, he would check on his team who were cooking his recipes of chicken rice, laksa, and chilli crab.
He also showed off his laksa cooking skills for the media!
The hawker teams were also hard at work!
It’s definitely no mean feat having to prepare food for 1,000 people and ensuring that the food is consistently tasty!
Some sneak peeks of the eager and hungry tasters…
Even though they started handing out the food at 6pm, some people had to wait till 8pm for their turn.
Their patience was well rewarded!
Top row — Gordon Ramsay’s version
Bottom row — Dishes by the respective hawkers
- Chicken rice — Gordon’s rice was excellent! Very fragrant, pleasantly balanced, and fluffy. Tian Tian’s rice was too soggy. The chicken for both was equally good. However, Tian Tian’s chilli was more punchy with a wonderful touch of fresh calamansi juice.
- Chilli crab — The earlier batch of Gordon’s chilli crab sauce was too watery. But he tweaked and improved the subsequent batches. Jumbo’s chilli crab sauce was a little too ketchup-y, sweet, and starchy.
- Laksa — Hands down, 328’s version wins! Gordon’s version lacks coconut milk smoothness and fragrance. Also, it was too oily and salty. Someone commented that Gordon’s laksa tastes more like curry mee.
After sampling the food, attendees were asked to vote via SMS (free, no charges). The results were announced at around 9pm.
The competition was a close fight!
According to the press release, “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.”
I think the final result was a fair verdict. 🙂
Ooh, and guess what! I managed to catch Ramsay’s attention! I asked him, “Gordon, which is your favorite Singapore dish?” And he answered me, “Chilli crab!” No wonder his chilli crab was the winner. He really knows his chilli crab!
This has been a truly exciting campaign by Singtel to raise the profile of our Singapore hawker culture. Of late, there has been much attention and talk on preserving Singapore’s hawker heritage. This campaign just shows that we are indeed passionate about our uniquely Singaporean hawker cuisine. In just 8 days, more than 2.5 million votes were cast in an online poll to choose 3 out of 12 hawkers to compete against Chef Ramsay.
Even Gordon Ramsay is impressed. “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.”
I’m also proud to have been a part of this campaign on HungryGoWhere, interviewing the 12 hawkers and sampling their cooking to write their individual profiles (click on each hawker to read their story). Each of their stories is touching and inspiring. Hopefully, our next generation will also be inspired to carry on our hawker traditions.