Singaporean chef Mathew Leong carves out a place in the world of gastronomy
Meet Singaporean chef Mathew Leong. At 26, he is Singapore’s youngest candidate for the Bocuse d’Or 2021, the Olympic Games for world gastronomy.
He took quite a journey in the culinary field, and it all started with his first competition, which took place as a teenager. If it was a game of chance, you would call it beginner’s luck, but that doesn’t exist when it comes to a show of skill: he won gold in his game. very first competition.
The sting was none other than his mother. ” I will always be help her when she causes a storm in the kitchen for the family, ”he said. And from all those hours spent in the kitchen together, a few recipes, like Hong Kong-style steamed fish and beef with fried green onions, have stuck with him.
It was all fun and playful until he met celebrity chef Jimmy Chok, who lifted the culinary curtain to reveal the wonders of restaurant cuisine. Leong, 13 at the time, was given a full-day visit to Chef Chok’s restaurant at the Supreme Court of Singapore. “I was amazed the moment I walked into his kitchen. It really ignited my passion to be a chef and achieve culinary excellence. I would say that without this opportunity, I would not be where I am today, to embark on this culinary adventure, ”he shares.
From that point on, everything was very steamy for him. Conquering Singapore’s culinary competition scene has revealed that he truly enjoys cooking and preparing unique dishes. After completing his national service, Leong spent months looking for the right opportunity. At this point, he already has experience in the kitchens of the Ritz Carlton, the former Marina Mandarin Singapore, and the Tippling Club. Being a man with a plan, taking strategic steps in his career is essential. Leong, then 21, packed his bags and left for Norway to accept an offer from Re-naa, a one Michelin star restaurant. (Note: the restaurant now has two Michelin stars.)
It was all part of the game plan: Leong has long learned that most of the Bocuse d’Or medalists are from Norway, so it would make sense for him to maximize his chances by traveling to the Nordic country. At Re-naa, he takes on the role of chef de partie. In 2018, he joined the Michelin restaurant Plate À L’aise in Oslo, where he rose through the ranks to become chef and assistant to the restaurant owner, Ulrik Jepsen.
At À L’aise, he definitely lets Singaporean flavors shine through in the dishes he creates. It’s a welcome whimsical twist for the people of Norway.
So, with a long list of culinary exploits in Singapore and Norway, you’d think he ended up having a preference. He does not have. “I don’t think I’ll be able to pick one. Every kitchen I have worked in has taught me a lot and has contributed to my growth over the years. The only difference is the different experiences I got from working in different restaurants, having to learn how to create different cuisines and dishes, ”admits Leong.
However, there are moments that cannot replace the experience of Singaporean cuisine that will certainly come in handy in the next Bocuse d’Or 2021 final. “I started my career without any knowledge, and I remember that I would always volunteer to keep working longer hours, just because I wanted to learn more from my mentors at the time. I was aware that I had to redouble my efforts to move up the ranks. was hard and exhausting to be in the kitchen for more than 15 hours a day, I’m glad I persevered because it taught me a lot. I can say that your accomplishments will be a testament to your hard work ”, shares- he.
It’s safe to assume that the combination of natural talent and courage has dropped him where he wants to be. Since hearing about Geir Skeie, who won the 2009 competition at the age of 29, he has made it his business to be the youngest to win this prestigious event. Fast forward to 2021, he’s on the right track, proving that man is truly the architect of his own destiny. “The biggest motivation for me is reaching the goal I’ve set for myself since I was 15. Whenever I feel demotivated, it’s a quote I live: ‘Winners move people. things and losers let things happen “.”
It has been a long time coming. He’s two months away from making his dream come true, and all the years of hard work are worth it. WITHOUT RESERVATION asks if he has something to say to his young self, and here is his response: “The journey early on can be tough, but don’t give up. Persevere and keep pushing harder each day because it will pay off eventually. “
Hard work is not all it takes. To get to this point in his career, some due sacrifices were made. “It has been five years since I left Singapore to pursue this path. The last time I was at home was a year and a half ago, “he reveals.
For those who are considering following the same path, the Chef has these pearls of wisdom to share with you: “I have always believed that hard times do not last, hard people do. If you want to achieve anything, you need to be ready for challenges and have a strong mindset to endure whatever hardships you face. Being in this industry is never easy, you have to be under a lot of pressure, working long hours. But if you’re really passionate about it, it’s important that you create opportunities for yourself and don’t just wait for opportunities to come knocking on your door. Be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone, because this is how you will learn and grow.
This great achievement, being the youngest candidate to represent Singapore, comes with its own trap. “I have heard people around me tell me that I am too young and inexperienced to participate in such a prestigious culinary competition. People have doubts about me because of my young age, ”Leong says.
It’s a tall order, and perhaps skeptics have seen their hopes dashed too many times. The only time Singapore won a medal was in 1989 – yes, over 30 years ago! – when chef William Wai won a bronze medal. Leong not only wants to be the first Singaporean to win gold, but he also strives to be the youngest chef to ever win gold.
“This is something that I want to accomplish not only for myself, my family and my loved ones, but also for all my mentors who have supported, helped and guided me throughout these years, also trusting me. . like my country and the Singapore Chef Association.
The world final, which will take place in September, in Lyon, France, is fast approaching. Although young chef Leong is very excited to welcome and fight the great Goliaths of the world of gastronomy, he keeps a cool head. The last three years have been spent preparing for this great competition, and he would certainly leave nothing to chance.
Traditionally, chefs competing at the Bocuse d’Or have been dismissed from their posts. Take Scandinavia for example; participants in the region receive significant financial support from a wide range of sponsors, allowing them to focus on the rigorous training of the Bocuse d’Or. This is an additional challenge for Leong, as he did not receive such financial grants. Instead, he continues to work full time as a chef at À L’aise. He only has two days off to train for this huge competition, and each session lasts an average of 10 hours.
On top of that, the contest has updated its rules, introducing a twist that can only be inspired by the pandemic. This year, applicants will present their own take-out take. “All dishes [starter, main course and dessert] must be presented in a reusable box designed and produced by the candidates from materials of plant origin. Now I also have to work with the design team to create a take out box that is durable, and since design is one of the scoring criteria it takes a lot of work, ”he says. Judging by his masterful work in the Singapore 2019 roster, we’re betting he’s going with a few tricks up his sleeve.
Outside of this fierce competition, he’s just another human chasing his dreams. And just like most professional wanderers, Leong sometimes craves for the taste of the house. “Besides my mom’s signature dishes, I really miss eating local dishes like Ou Jian (fried oyster omelet) Hokkien mee (fried shrimp noodles), chili crab, satay and drinking my favorite. teh-peng (iced milk tea). I cook some of these dishes whenever I feel like them, but they just don’t taste like home, ”he admits.
While the world can never quite go back to what it once was, it is only a matter of time before the ban on leisure travel is lifted. And when we get to the other side, here are a few places in Singapore that have Chef Mathew Leong’s seal of approval: For the quintessential tourist experience, head to Dempsey’s Long Beach, where they serve amazing crab at chilli pepper and a crab with salted eggs. But if you want a real local experience, the Newton Food Center should be yours, with a range of famous local dishes such as barbecued stingray, satay, char kway teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles) and, of course. , durian.
He will also take care of you for your future trip to Norway. “I highly recommend the Diner restaurant and bar. They serve amazing Cantonese food that really captures the familiar flavors that I grew up eating. The taste really hits home, ”he enthuses.
For Malaysians looking for a Chef Leong-approved home cooking experience, head to Penang. “Some of my best meals were without a doubt the local food such as cendol, Penang laksa, Hokkien shrimp noodles and char kway teow, which are different from what we have in Singapore.”