Local Dishes Win iChef School Contest

By Tris Marlis - Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013

“The traditional dishes were not so great,” was the comment of chef Eric Neo, Vice President of Singapore Chefs Association and judge, after tasting five 2-course meals prepared by the contestants. He later added, “the fusion ones were better,” he reflected this at the annual iChef cooking competition for secondary school students, organised by the Republic Poly’s School of Hospitality. The theme this year is “creative local cuisine,” which explains the twists on local dishes appearing on the judges dining table, comprising the head honchos of the Singapore Chefs Association (SCA), Mr Chua Yeow Chong of Lam Soon Singapore Pte Ltd and even celebrity foodie Moses Lim. Even if the few traditional dishes were not “great,” does it mean modern cuisine has been set to overshadow our favorite heritage cuisine?
 20The verdict with chef Eric Teo (left), Honorary Mentor, and chef Edmund Toh (right), President of Singapore Chefs

The contest aims to evoke interest in cooking among younger generation, and also to expose the institute’s facilities to the participants. It has attracted a great number of applicants, this year 323 students from 50 secondary schools participated, which made it the largest cooking competition (secondary school level) documented by Singapore Book of Records.


The judges agreed that they are seeing an increasing number of youths in Singapore curious about the culinary industry. The competition has gained positive response too, with 11% of participants from previous year enrolled in the school programme after the event. It is very encouraging indeed, for a nation with a populace that is not overly keen to inherit the mantle of providing for tomorrow’s heritage food industry and its needs.
Students are given $30 budget and 90 minutes to prepare a main course and a dessert course.

“This year’s participants are bolder and more expressive,” comments chef Eric Teo, Honorary Mentor of SCA. Perhaps it was the theme, most participants presented fusion dishes at the judging table, such as Nasi Lemak Sandwich, Satay Crepe and Mee Siam Pasta.


“Traditional recipes are harder to master, whereas ‘fusion’ gives more leeway for students’ creativity,” explains the other Eric, chef Neo.


Despite that, the traditional dishes reigned supreme at the end. Yuhua Team 1 won the competition with their rendition of Ayam Rendang Dendang, and pandan lemak rice presented in tall cone shape. “It is inspired by what we usually have in Malay wedding, or what the Indonesian call, Nasi Tumpang,” says Nur Zulaikha and her partner, Putri Nurhaidah. Second spot went to team Pew Pew Chefs from St Patrick’s, who scored with their traditional orh nee, a Teochew style dessert made of yam paste and served with ginko nuts.
Ayam Rendang Dendang, the winning dish by Yu Hua Team 1 (image courtesy of Republic Polytechnic)

Orh Nee by team Pew Pew Chefs from St Patrick’s

Although impressed by student’ creativity, chef Edmund Toh, President of SCA, commented that it is essential to master the basic skills first before attempting fusion, which often involves changing the formula of traditional recipe. But overall, the students had delivered and met the expectations of the judges.


The number of applicants has increased steadily for the past three years. When asked, most students said their reason for participating was for the “fun” or to “challenge themselves.” But after the experience, meeting chefs and other experts in the industry, some of these 15-year-old students mulled the idea of being a culinary professional, “I love to cook, but I don’t know yet,” says the winner, Nur.
The winning team, Putri Nurhaidah and Nur Zulaikah, with Minister of State, Ms Sim Ann.

Perhaps it is too early for a 15-year-old to decide, but the 3-year-old iChef competition had given a head-start to arouse interest and curiosity among youths in the food and beverage industry. And now after the students walked away with certificates and prizes, the question is what is next for the school and other affiliated associations to keep this stove burning?