Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Singapore Hawkers vs Gordon Ramsay: Who Really Wins At The Singtel #HawkerHeroes Cook-off?

I'm still too tired from following Gordon Ramsay around Singapore the past weekend and surviving the very exciting and intense Singtel Hawker Heroes showdown at Newton Food Centre.

You can read my Yahoo story which came out just a few hours after the event for what happened.

As you all know by now, the British celebrity chef won for chili crab, but could not beat Tian Tian for chicken rice, and 328 Katong Laksa for laksa.

I will add the Ramsay eye candy for all you fans of his later tomorrow.

Oh what the heck, here you go.

The guy is a megastar! Many of us were totally blown away at just how popular Mr Ramsay is. You cannot believe the crowd!

Nearly 5,000 people came to have a glimpse of their idol. (iPhone photo)

Even luckier were the first 1,000 people who queued up very early in the day...(the first person showed up at 1am, even though the event was at 6.30pm). Fancy Gordon Ramsay serving you food personally.

And posing for photos.

This is what the tasting platter looks like. You know what, everyone had different opinions about what they liked.

Personally, I like the rice in Ramsay's chicken rice better (lighter, drier and not "jelak" or satiating). Tian Tian's was a little too mushy for my tastes, and saltily smothered with gravy. Their chicken was slippery and tender, while Ramsay's was served almost without skin. But Ramsay lost out majorly in terms of the chili sauce alone - his was made with vinegar, while the other is fragrant with lime, ginger and garlic.

Chef Ramsay's laksa was commendable - again more savoury and robust. Rather strong on spices like turmeric and blue ginger...and there's something else in there I can't quite identify. Keropokman said it tastes more like curry mee than laksa. It does take a while getting used to, but I liked it enough.

And now for Ramsay's winning chili crab. Yes, it's far more bold, complex, robust and spicy. It's tangy, savoury and not too sweet. I really do have to say that I love the chili crab. This is what I tweeted when I tasted it.

This crab was boiled first before it was mixed with the sauce. I know some people think it ought to be cooked with the gravy to extract the umami essence of the seafood. But Jumbo's tasted a bit too mushy, and the sweet eggy sauce was not quite what I would want to dip mantou in. Well, I'm not a fan of chili crab to begin with, but I sure did like what Ramsay did.

 Actually what was interesting is that after about an hour into the voting, he started tweaking the sauce. Yes, he spent quite a while personally making sure it got to its winning formula. I think I was lucky in that I didn't choose to eat early, so I got the later (yummier) batch.

Is anyone looking? Haha. Well, I wouldn't call it cheating. Whatever he did sure turned the tide for Ramsay, and he started seeing votes shooting up after that.

There were some really tense moments for the chef. He really took the competition seriously. Did we hear a few F-words? Give a guess.

He still managed to find time to give a laksa demo for the press.

You have no idea how crazy it became for the media. Of course, we all wanted front row privileges, and some of us nearly got crushed!

 But to be rewarded with this sight...Gordon Ramsay serving you laksa. Oh my. I don't think I'll ever see this again. But hey, he did mention something about opening a restaurant here...

That thick, gorgeously savoury broth. Maybe a touch greasy, but I like that he wasn't afraid to go spicy.

 Gordon also went around for public interaction with the diners.

 He also shared some talk with KF Seetoh, which also ended in a high-five.

Finally it came time for the results at 9pm. When asked who they would cheer for, it was Gordon. When asked whose food they voted for, it was Singapore.

So here are the winners - Tian Tian Chicken Rice (in white and red), and 328 Katong Laksa (in blue and red). Kudos for holding their ground in the face of a celebrity chef with Michelin-star restaurants.

This isn't really about who is more superior or skilled, but shows that it doesn't matter what awards you have, good food can be found in the humblest of places using ingredients that aren't premium or fancy.

Hawkers have been serving us great, tasty and very importantly - affordable meals. That, to me, is an even bigger challenge, because you can easily turn out great meals with best grade and pricey ingredients, and a grand kitchen. Half the job is done for you. But try serving the masses on a budget and keep them coming back for more?

And it was nice to see that even such a decorated chef can turn humble and learn from folks who do exactly that. He's already dreaming up dishes for his restaurants using what he learned here.

Well, at the end of it all, I think the Singtel Hawker Heroes event was a huge publicity coup - the competition itself is mainly great entertainment, but it did wonders fanning our loyalty for hawker food, and putting Singapore hawker food on the international radar. I don't think getting Ramsay to come here was easy (or cheap). But this will remain a talking point for quite some time to come.

So, everybody wins! Singtel, hawkers, Ramsay, and us!

Here's a part of the brief press conference given after the results. I summarised most of it in my Yahoo story too. Sorry for shaky video - trying to juggle taking both photos and videos using iPhone and DSLR! Yeah, I know, I'm greedy.

Watch the crowd go wild at the end as he leaves...

So Singtel, you have spoiled us. What's next?

All photos (unless indicated otherwise) taken with the Canon EOS 6D, kindly loaned to me by Canon Singapore.



  1. Hahaha wondering how's Chef Ramsay's laksa taste like~~
    ok, now i'm really craving for Katong Laksa >.<
    Gotta visit Singapore soon!!


  2. We just returned from a too-short visit to Singapore. What an amazing city. Our friends showed us amazing food at Eng Seng, Lei Gardens and two hawker centers. I think I put on 2 kilos.

    People of Singapore were uniformly welcoming and friendly and happy wherever we went. And so casual, except the bankers.

    I think it's cool that Mr. Ramsay went to Singapore to compete. It raises awareness of this special place and the terrific food culture.

    My only criticism (and they are very minor): I'd have picked different dishes for the competition. Chicken Rice for sure, and Laksa too, but I'd go with Black Pepper Crab over Chili Crab and I'd have added Roti Paratha to bring some representation for Singapore's Indian population.

  3. I remember my first trips to Singapore. You couldn't turn a corner without seeing street hawkers. So sad to watch them all moving into fast food sterile indoor centres or worse still disappearing entirely. That's what they call progress I guess.


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