Jul 09, 2013

    Cheer our hawkers, not celeb chefs

    CELEBRITY chef Gordon Ramsay told reporters on Sunday that the real winner of the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge was not any one person, but Singapore's street cuisine.

    Yet, it disturbs me that the appreciation of Singapore hawker fare reaches fever pitch only when a celebrity is involved.

    The Scottish chef has now pronounced that fine-dining establishments can't hold a candle to what our best hawkers are serving - but didn't we know this all along?

    Ramsay was worshipped like a superstar all of Sunday night. Wherever he went, ear-splitting shrieks were heard. In one instance, a fan shouted after Ramsay shook his hand: "Thank you for touching me!"

    In contrast, whenever food critic and host K. F. Seetoh tried to get Singaporeans to cheer for the hawker heroes, there was awkward silence. He even chided the crowd: "Wah, so bad, ah? Gordon Ramsay, you cheer. Hawker heroes, so quiet."

    It felt wrong to me. Where was the pride for our hawkers? Weren't they what the whole event was about?

    In April, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan warned that Singapore's hawker culture is in danger of dying out. He attributed this to the younger generation not wanting to step up to the plate.

    Mr Seetoh told My Paper: "It is seen just as a form of cheap feed, something we take for granted, that it will be there forever."

    Our hawker culture is severely underappreciated. While great publicity was generated for Singapore food, with headlines like "Gordon Ramsay defeated by Singapore hawkers" in the Wall Street Journal, I'm not sure if Sunday's event will result in any lasting changes for most of our hawkers toiling in obscurity.

    Mr Seetoh noted that celebrities are needed to "sex up" hawker food in order to attract a new generation to carry the torch.

    "They need goals, like being a Ramsay or (Anthony) Bourdain, to do this," he said.

    I can't help but think that Singaporeans need to celebrate what is theirs, with or without the celebrity plug.

    Think about it, when the hunger pangs strike in the wee hours of the night, where do we all end up? Hawker centres, not Michelin-starred restaurants.