Can celebrity chefs handle the heat in Singapore's hawker kitchens?

By Celine Asril
4 June 2013 1:17 AM Updated 06 Jun 2013

Can celebrity chefs handle the heat in Singapore's hawker kitchens?

Nigella "The Domestic Goddess" Lawson | Photo: Brian Minkoff - London Pixels, Wikimedia Commons

Do Michelin stars and culinary talents endow chefs with the ability, and grit, to work a day in Singapore’s hot, humid hawker kitchens? We think that's not the case for many. Here's how, and why, some of the world's most famous chefs will, and will not, make the cut:  


Jamie Oliver's Vivocity restaurantJamie Oliver opens at Vivocity soon
For more information, go to: Jamie Oliver's Vivocity restaurant

Jamie Oliver
Most likely to be adopted by a female hawker
The women hawkers will coo and want to adopt this cute Brit chef with a slight lisp. In return, we can see Jamie (not “Oliver”) clearing trays, helping the cleaners push their carts, and chopping vegetables in the tiny hawker centre kitchens. This hardy chef will work his way through slowly but surely, cooking his way up the hawker ladder(s), eventually reforming all the hawkers of their lard and ghee ways (he'll even have a cookbook about it). No one mention ‘The Naked Chef’ to them – the older generation of hawkers might not get it ("It's not me, it's the food [that's naked]!") and change their perception of this angel.


Cat Cora opens Ocean restaurantCat Cora cares about the fish
For a video interview with Cat Cora, click here: Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora

Cat Cora
Most likely to have a showdown with the hawkers

Not before she educates the hawkers about sustainable fish and has her family over for a meal. After which, she'll diplomatically challenge the hawkers to challenge her to battle. From back episodes of 12 seasons of ‘Iron Chef America’, we gather there will likely be more than one showdown, and they can range from secret ingredient "sustainable crab" to secret ingredient "sustainable gong gongs (conch)". These will be epic, and we would pay good money to see. A la cuisine, please.
Wild card. She might win. She is Iron Chef America.


Gordon Ramsay skewered for serving saltWill Gordon Ramsay serve salty hawker food?
Read about how SingTel challenged Gordon Ramsay to a cook-off with Singapore hawkers

Gordon Ramsay
Most likely to send the hawker home, not in the polite way

Ramsay in a singlet and flip flops, hanging onto a Good Morning towel? Surely he’ll send someone off – or be told to balik kampung (Malay for "go home to your village") – before this is allowed to happen. It isn't that we think the most notorious of Michelin-starred chefs is unable to pull off the outfit (he'll be right at home); the heat might be too intense for him to handle – aside from Singapore's wanton humidity, he'll have to work in an almost clastrophobic space (compared to his spacious show kitchens on TV’s ‘Hell's Kitchen’) that can likely only hold one sous chef, if even. Estimated poor chopsticks and wok skills aside (French kitchens don't teach you how to handle these), this master chef is also most likely to not hold back in a brawl. Our advice: hawker can handle a cleaver, and cleaver wins paper, or anything.
Cannot make it.


Marco Pierre White
Likely to end up being smoking buddies with hawkers

The once youngest Michelin three-starred chef (in 1994) has retired, both his chef career and stars. We think his approach to the hawkers will therefore be less harsh: no more ejecting customers, and no longer mentoring (Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali, to name two), but open to being mentored. Despite being classically trained, we can see this mellowed rockstar chef being besties with the hawkers, smoking while crouched in the back of the hawker centres. In a 2012 interview with AOL, he said: "I am being judged by people who know less than me, so what is it worth? Very little." We think his newfound journey of self-discovery will help him band together and last the longest of the lot. That is, until the now-restaurateur opens a new restaurant. 
A quiet win.


Nigella Lawson
Likely to win everyone over with goodies

This curvaceous chef will move her Kitchen-Aid in and seductively whip up frosted cupcakes made from a box. But no one will care what hawker fare this goddess makes to sell – it's how she makes it that will pack in nods from the crowds. Hawkers, likely the men, will stand around to watch the television cook/flirt, while the other female stallholders will pretend not to stand around to watch (watch out for bickering...). We can't see Nigella sweating it out behind the hawker scenes, not even with the massive production lights that she'll likely have in tow, but we can see this friendly chef modernising the concept of hawker food. There'll be plenty of smartphones held up for her – not for swaying in the dark like at a concert, but for the taking of videos to post. 
Not sure we want her to win.


Celine Asril is guilty of taking pictures before tucking in to all her meals; it’s a (good) hazard of the job – this editor of HungryGoWhere never sits down to two of the same meals in a week. Need proof? Follow her work twitter feed at @HungryGoWhere.

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