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Friday, August 5, 2011

Stark Reality

E&O and AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef Contest

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Those of you out there who love cooking reality shows like MasterChef or Chopped raise your hands! Have you ever wondered whether you’d be able to handle the demands of being a contestant on such a show? Well for me this week involved just that.

I was fortunate enough to be invited along to partake in the Singapore leg of the E&O / AFC Next Celebrity Chef contest. What the heck is that you may ask? Well it’s a competition open to chefs and wannabe chefs/cooks (me!) to vie for the coveted role of “Celebrity Chef”; the next Anthony Bourdain, chef Wan etc. it is the opportunity for someone to pop out of obscurity and land a job in the big time, a one year contract with E&O and a cooking show on the AFC (Asian Food Channel).

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so with leave applied from work I headed on down to the AFC studio @ Orchard Central (with a very sleepy yet supportive Chili Padi) at 8:30am. When I got there I was in a state of panic; from those that were there early I deduced that 80% of them where chefs! Chefs in that they’re either in some sort of cooking school, have graduated from cooking school and are working in the F&B industry or have private cooking schools of their own.. and here I was a simple self-taught home cook trying to play in the same sandbox as the big boys! My day was not looking good.

Registration – When it came time to actually register they were not able to find my name on the registration list, finally managed to register (mug shot taken); bad sign no. 1

Group Allocation – Because there was such a large turn out (large relative to Singapore) we were divided into groups of 6. I was ‘lucky’ enough to be placed in group no. 4; bad sign no. 2

Hair and Makeup – Relatively simple affair, we were shipped downstairs for a touch of make up and a quick demo of the cook top we were going to be using for the days audition. What? I have to cook.. TODAY.. *mild panic*

The Cook Off (Part I) – Now the time of reckoning. We were shuffled in line and entered the studio, the task at hand, to make the simplest of things, the humble omelette! I had so many issues trying to get my induction cook top working. At the end of the allotted 5 minutes all I had to serve was semi cooked egg; bad sign no. 3 Luckily though because I technically didn’t cook anything I was able to come back and try again later! Apparently I wasn’t the only contestant to have problems with the same induction cooktop; bad sign no. 4

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After waiting a few hours ‘twas time to try again

The Cook Off (Part II) – Having been given a 2nd chance I approached the cook off the same measured way; get the pan up to heat, get the butter melted, whisk some milk into the eggs, salt and add cheese, throw the egg into the pan and fry for about 2 minutes. Throw in some pepper and chicken bacon; meanwhile get the plate ready! Dollop a teaspoon of ketchup then add a streak (sorry folks we weren’t able to take any photos) then back to the egg. Fold over the egg, throw a little more butter into the pan and sauté some finely sliced white button mushrooms. Plate the omelette add the buttery mushrooms to the top of the egg and add a final garnish of parsley. Mind you all this was done with Chef Wan and Chef Michael Saxon hovering about chit chatting with you. When it was all done I was relatively happy with what I put up; though I knew my eggs were slightly over cooked. We were ushered out of the studio and made to wait while the judges deliberated our fate.

The Interview – Those who’s cooking skills and end product deemed above average (or as chef Wan put it, “the exercise was to determine who can cook and who can ‘cook’!”) were asked to stay back for a 1:1 interview. JOY! I was one of the few who were asked to say back. The interview was way easier than having to cook in front of the chefs. I learnt that based on the results of your cooking skills and how well you faired from the interview determined whether you’d be called back by the team.

From a pool of 100 hopefuls approximately 50 had passed the cooking round and from that 50 a total of 17 people would be asked to be called back.

We left Orchard Central in high spirits; it was a tiring day, we’d been there from 8:30am – 3:30pm, no lunch just a light brunch. Big kudos to the Chili Padi for being there to help calm the nerves and the occasional shout of encouragement!

The Call-Back – Quicker than you can say “Jiminy Cricket” I got at call saying they wanted me back in the studio for some announcement.. I’d actually made the top 17!

The Announcement – All lined up with the other 16 hopefuls, were positioned like a firing line. Chefs Wan and Saxon prance to and fro gazing upon us, my only reaction was a ‘deer in headlights’ look. Sadly this is where my journey ended. I was outgunned by I can only guess more qualified chefs! There were others too who didn’t make the cut, some of them cried after leaving the room, the friends that I had made that day from the AFC staff sought to comfort them, losing is never easy especially when you come pretty far.

Looking back I’ve been given quite a lot of encouraging words from my friends “hey you’re not a trained chef, yet you managed to make it that far”. I left the studios with the Chili Padi and decided to drown my sorrows in some sinful French Bistro food. I gained more than I lost; I had actually done quite well, I had survived the roving cameras and the pressure of cooking to a time limit. I think I could actually get use to this reality show thing!

4 comments:

  1. awesome still mate. And you didnt drown the making it to the top 17 with a beer with us!

    I see it as an affirmation for making it to the top 17 although it is not as desired in the undesirable circumstances or conditions.

    - the Bumblebee "NatGeo" wannabe driver

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  2. Thanks Simon, sorry couldn't celebrate the day with you guys, but the drinking session for the day was given a miss. Oh well we'll have to make up for it next week (if not at the BBQ Saturday)

    It's for people like you and the rest of the gang that inspires me to cook!

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  3. Hey, that must have been some experience! I'd never hv the guts to go for something like this :P And congrats, u made it to the Top 17 :)

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  4. Thanks Pureglutton, it was a ball of fun.. though yeah a little bummed that I missed out on being in the top 7. Hopefully they'll air the episode on cable :) You should give it a try.. hopefully they will do something more for amateur cooks though.

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