Catherine Ling is a food and travel writer who considers every meal an adventure. She contributes to Makansutra and blogs at Camemberu.com. The views expressed here are her own.
It was another day of media frenzy, this time at 51 East Coast Road, home of 328 Katong Laksa. Gordon Ramsay had come to see the third and final opponent in the Singtel Hawker Heroes challenge -- founder Madam Lucy Koh (or Nancy as she is fondly referred to by regulars) and her son Ryan Koh.
Ramsay had already gleaned secrets of chicken rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and chili crab from Jumbo Seafood Restaurant the day prior. Fans and media alike thronged to see what he would have to say after learning about laksa.
The chef is in Singapore for a cook-off that will see him pit his Michelin-star worthy skills against the undecorated but highly beloved hawkers of the nation. This will be decided by the public (first 1,000 get to taste the dishes) at Newton Food Centre, and with 2.5 million votes that went into deciding the top three hawkers, the pressure is strong.
“And I’m up against the best of the best,” said Ramsay.
Madam Koh and her son showed Ramsay the ingredients and the process that goes into making their laksa. The minute he tasted the lady’s broth, he knew he had to change his original plan of approach. Hers was just too good. The chef seemed to like that the laksa was not too sweet, but Ryan later revealed it was a little spicy for him.
“The secret here is the blend -- how they get that fragrance. And they start out fresh every hour. I thought it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it would be that good!” said the chef.
“Not just the laksa, but the chili crab and the chicken rice -- everything was just extraordinary. My team and I, we’ve upped our game. And no one got to bed this morning till 4.30!” he added.
It was also pretty exciting for Ryan Koh, 31, to meet the famous chef and to cook against him. He had been learning the ropes from his mom since he was 13, so he’s had almost two decades of experience despite his youth. When asked if he will come up with something special for the cook-off, he says confidently, “No, we will use our original recipe.”
Of course, one of the most frequently asked questions is whether Ramsay had learned any Hokkien curse words. The chef famous for cussing said, “You know what, I’ve had an amazing time since I’ve been here... I’ve learned more about the humble approach more than the curse words, which is why I’m here.”
He does have bigger fish to fry. Namely the big cook-off on Sunday. Ramsay acknowledges that he’s had some very good tips and advice from local food guru KF Seetoh whom he met earlier that morning.
“The single most challenging thing for tomorrow is the consistency for 1,000 guests. I run a restaurant that serves 38 guests like clockwork on a daily basis. But this is 942 more to cook for. I’ve learned that I have to seriously concentrate on freshness and flavour,” said Ramsay. “Plus there’s three of them, and one of me! But I like being up against it. I thrive on pressure. See you tomorrow!”
Catch Gordon Ramsay in person at Newton Food Centre (500 Clemeanceau Avenue North, Singapore 229495) from 6pm onwards at the Hawker Heroes Cook-off.