Jul 09, 2013

    I was humbled by hawker face-off

    On Sunday, Singapore hawkers triumphed over celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge.

    Ramsay's laksa paled in comparison to that of Mr Ryan Koh of 328 Katong Laksa.

    The Michelin-starred chef's chicken rice, too, failed in its fight against Madam Foo Kui Lian's Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.

    However, the Scot's chilli crab was declared better than the one cooked by Mr Ang Kiam Meng, chief executive of Jumbo Seafood Restaurant.

    Ramsay spoke to reporters after the event.

    Where do you think you went wrong?

    I'm not used to being on the losing team. I'm impressed. I think, for the laksa, it needed a bit more coconut, a little more spice.

    What I'm taking home is confirmation of how good hawker food is. I think when I came (to Singapore) over 15 years ago, I fell in love with it. (Since then), I've won three Michelin stars. I come back, and (hawkers) kicked my a**.

    Which dish did you find the most difficult?

    All three were difficult for me. I'm a Westerner. I was born in Scotland. I grew up with fish and chips...I lived and trained in France. We have street food in England, but we don't have street food quite as unique as this.

    I guess the most difficult dish for me was the laksa. The tofu, the coconut, the paste, the shrimp... I was struggling.

    What other Singaporean dishes have you heard about?

    The curries are unique. The rice dishes are extraordinary. These stalls don't look that glamorous, but forget (that). Get your a** to a table, and enjoy the food. No disrespect, I've eaten at some fine-dining establishments since I've been here. They're not a patch on what (hawkers) are selling.

    Any intention of taking Singapore dishes to Britain?

    I'm actively looking for a restaurant in Singapore. I cannot wait to open up here. And if I was to bring some fancy, poncey French food to Singapore, there'd be a riot. I've learnt a lot. I've got about four ideas, already working with chilli crab.

    How did you feel about the hawkers you were up against?

    They were instrumental in giving away their secrets. (Too often), chefs are obsessed with other chefs beating them.

    To see the generosity of the hawkers and the way they treated me in their stalls... For them to tell me how to cook their food - honestly, it's humbling. Forget the corporate stuff, forget the sponsors. This was about them, and tonight showed that.