(From left) Find out what Derek Cheong, Sharon Gonzago, Lennard Yeong and MasterChef contestants have been cooking up. | PHOTOS: HANDOUTS
You’ve cheered them on as they dashed across your screens, stressed for them as they tried to beat the clock at their cooking stations, and cheered when they made it through yet another gruelling round on MasterChef Asia and MasterChef Singapore.
But now that the competitions are but a memory, have you ever wondered what some of the most popular MasterChef contestants are up to these days? We certainly did, so we asked them.
A popular finalist in the first season of MasterChef Singapore (“so you can say we were the ‘pioneer generation’,”he quipped), Aaron is a busy, busy man. In 2020, he started Jiak Song Mee Hoon Kway, a chain of hawker stalls serving hand-made noodle soup that now boasts six outlets across the island.
Before MasterChef, Aaron was already a successful photographer, and with the limitations of Covid-19 a thing of the past, he has found himself back behind the camera on assignments again. “So my days are packed between my photography and F & B businesses,” he said. “Oh, and I try to squeeze dive trips in between too. It’s crazy, I know, but I just like to keep busy.”
As if all that’s not enough, Aaron will be launching another F & B brand during the Singapore Food Festival 2022 come September. “It’s called Wang Ji Wanton Mee,” he said. “It’s a special recipe that I have developed over five years and I will tell you it is probably the best wanton mee you’ll have in a long time.”
Evidently, he’s quite humble too.
After taking the MasterChef Season 2 crown, this former NTU Materials Engineering student went on to start his own private dining experience called Twelve Flavours. He then famously landed a commis chef gig at Mirazur’s three-month residency in Singapore.
“As someone who gets really bored doing mundane, monotonous jobs, I find that I do not enjoy myself when I work in restaurants. I feel the need to create new dishes and flavours, and even get bored of my own dishes and want to retire them,” he said.
Hence, Twelve Flavours and his online chocolate store, Kakkow, are the perfect creative outlets. “Now that I’ve dropped out of school to focus on my culinary career, I am planning to open my own private dining space next year where I will conduct my dinners and other chefs can come to conduct their meals too,” he let on.
After making it to the finals of MasterChef Asia, this former mechanical engineer returned to work the in shipyards for two years before leaving to work part-time in restaurant kitchens. Today, the 32-year-old looker is the in-house chef at Miele Singapore and a bona fide Instagram influencer.
While his life may look dreamy on Instagram, the recently engaged-to-be-married Lennard says he works plenty hard. “MasterChef definitely gave me that push into the public eye,” he said. “But it’s only a quick jolt. You still have to work very hard and put yourself out there in order to build yourself up and ensure that you’re still opening doors for yourself.”
PHOTO: EUREKA STUDIO BY A.D.A.M.
Before joining the second season of MasterChef Singapore and taking the title of runner-up, Leon was a private tutor and Chinese language teacher. While he continues to pursue his career in education as a Chinese language curriculum director at a tuition centre, Leon is also part-owner of a Halal cafe called Creatr in Stirling Road, where his MasterChef apron sits proudly framed. He takes on hosting and singing gigs as well. “I think what I enjoy most about my current jobs is that the lifestyle is very flexible and dynamic. I get to meet people from different walks of life, which enriches mine,” he said. When asked what he is looking forward to, the multi-hyphenate replied, “More cooking-related engagements, and hopefully, get to host my own cooking show someday.”
Season 1’s favourite underdog, Sharon Gonzago has been living her dream since her stint on MasterChef. “MasterChef opened the doors to the F & B industry, which wouldn’t let my itty bitty toe in as a home cook,” she said candidly. “It has been four years since (the competition) and it has given me the confidence to explore and venture into business.”
These days, Sharon cooks and serves dinners as part of kitchen appliance brands SubZero and Wolf’s Tok Panjang private dining sessions. She is also about to launch SoupCup, a takeaway kiosk concept serving her interpretation of a collagen-based Cantonese fish soup. And then there is Opeum KL, an F & B outlet that she is setting up in the soon-to-debut Lloyd’s Inn Kuala Lumpur.
“It’s not easy starting a career at the age of 48 after being a stay-at-home mum for most of my life, but every day is a learning experience. I’ve learnt to be humble, to set aside my pride and not be afraid to ask questions. I make it a point never to limit myself. Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” she said. What an inspiration!
A former tutor, Vasun, as she is better known, left her job in 2020 to join the second season of MasterChef Singapore. Although she did not make it to the finals, Vasun said taking that chance has paid off. “After my time on MasterChef, I was certain that making a complete switch to the food industry was a worthy gamble.”
These days, she hosts a popular South Indian private dining experience at her home thrice a week, conducts thosai classes, and takes on food-related freelance work. In August, she was invited to cook a South Indian National Day meal with MasterChef Singapore judge Damian D’Silva at his restaurant Rempapa, where she served an Indian set lunch featuring her popular thosai and chutneys.
Vasun said she is looking forward to setting aside time in 2023 to begin research on a book she’s been planning to write for years. “I’m also keen on a stagiaire [internship] next year, so that I can learn and improve,” she added.
Woo Wai Leong
After winning MasterChef Asia in 2015, this former lawyer started Restaurant Ibid, which he describes as “a fine-dining restaurant that is pretty relaxed and chill.”
Wai Leong said MasterChef changed his life in extremely profound ways: “Because I joined the competition with an open heart and mind, I allowed it to alter my professional course and showed me a much different path from what I originally envisioned.”
Like most restaurateurs, Wai Leong and his team were put through the wringer during the pandemic, so what he is looking forward to most is a proper vacation. “I have not taken one in five years since starting the restaurant,” he said.