Cooking with Hearts

By Tris Marlis - Friday, Aug 16, 2013

“This is no American Idol or Next Top Model,” says one of the cameramen, during a set of Chefs with Heart shoot. The new reality show that is set to air on YouTube this Friday, is designed for F&B employers with labour crunch problems, young teenagers who are lost with purpose and kitchen amateurs who want to learn a trick or two. There will be fire, smoke, and maybe blood and tears, but don’t expect for cat fights drama.


It all started out as a meaningful idea between chef Benny Se Teo (founder of Eighteen Chefs) and Josephine Liardon (creator of Chefs with Heart), which took them two years to finally make it happen. The show will feature three locally renowned chefs, namely Se Teo, chef Willin Low of Wild Rocket and chef Heman Tan of FoodFest F&B Pte Ltd. 12 young apprentices coming from challenged socio-economic backgrounds will be trained by the three chefs in a 22-day bootcamp. Other social enterprises also come together and help, including Just Cinnamon (which supports social entrepreneurship and innovation) Threeonesix (media and production house) and 25TREES (event management team).


The lead chef Benny, is best known as a social entrepreneur who trains delinquents and ex-convicts, providing them with skills, jobs and a second chance. He strongly believes that Chef with Hearts can be a wakeup call to many F&B players out there. “These are crucial times,” says Se Teo, referring to the peak of manpower problem in the F&B industry. The three restaurants chain owner can proudly say: “I have never had labour crunch,” that is since 2007 when he opened his first restaurant. The director of the program, Liadron also adds: “There are 4,000 kids every year who can’t get into ITE after ‘N’ Level. They end up working as delivery boys, service staffs or unemployed. Imagine if we can just take 10 percent of them and train them.”
To these young apprentices, Se Teo is more than a mentor, he is a role model and a friend.

All three chefs have very different background – a punk, a lawyer and an artist – but they took a different path in life and became chefs, and now role models to young apprentices. To select the 12 contestants, Liardon has worked closely with local youth associations. They are all under 24 years old, a few have experience working in F&B, but mostly are newbies in the kitchen, extremely passionate, but lack the chance to shine.


One of the boys, Fadli bin Omar, heard of Benny Se Teo and talked about him when he was in the boys’ home. Just like how Benny Se Teo was inspired by others before him, Fadli thought “if Benny can do it, I can do it too.” Ex-con Benny’s story about self-redemption and creating second chances in life is very well documented.
Fadli bin omar is the last contestant enrolled in the program.

Another shining star, Yen Lina, had the word “dream” tattooed on her right forearm. When asked what her dream is, she said: “I want to become a chef, I want to open a restaurant for pets,” eagerly sharing her ideas. Lina has worked in the F&B industry as service staff for a few years now. At first, it was all about earning pocket money, but it turned into a passion. At home she would cook for her sister, and bake sugar free dessert for herself (her diabetes was one of the reasons why she started cooking).
Stay tune to follow Lina’s progress.

Then, there is Christopher Soh, better known as “din tai fung,” the boy who spent a year at the Taiwanese restaurant making solely xiao long bao. Now he is excited to learn skills from other stations in the kitchen. He is known to be the perfectionist, and extremely particular when it comes to plating. He stacked up carrots and broccoli, placed a pan seared salmon fillet on top, and call it the “MBS Salmon” for its shape resembles the skyline.
Christopher has the golden fingers and is very particular when it comes to plating.

Then there are other kids, who are also passionate and curious, whom you will get to know more about in the show. Every chef will have a week to train them, and there will be food challenge at the end of every training. There will be no elimination, as “everyone is a winner here,” says Se Teo. But at the end of the program, one winner will walk away with the grand prize. With the skills taught, these apprentices will be placed for employment with various F&B partners, post broadcast. Stay tune as the series evolve on their YouTube channel here http://bit.ly/1btAh7Q