I wished this headline said otherwise, really.
I said I would queue up at nine in the morning (haha) to snatch up one of coupons to catch a glimpse of Michelin-starred restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, and to try his interpretations of the local hawker dishes. In the end, since the event was scheduled to start at 6.30pm, I thought 3pm would be a more reasonable time to join the queue at Newton Circus Food Centre.
I arrived at 2pm instead. I was wrong.
#hawkerheroes Lesson One: If you are going for something that is free, and – in particular – food dishes reinterpreted and prepared by a famed celebrity chef, you’d better be present as early as possible (1.30am is the benchmark). We were clearly not in the same league as those who were there bright and early.
It was disappointing I suppose. I am a huge fan (maybe not so huge, in retrospect now) of him and most of his television programmes, and it would’ve been nice to see him in person (trying the food and taking photographs would be massive bonuses). The hawker centre was not designed to fit a thousand foodies, and while the maintenance of order was generally competent, the staff couldn’t stop many from cutting the queue conveniently.
#hawkerheroes Lesson Two: If the first-come-first-serve system is preferred, then the organisers should’ve prevented blatant instances of queue-cutting (with barricades, more manpower). And since coupons were eventually distributed, I thought they could’ve used more efficient systems to manage the crowd.
I think the queue arrangements (and making it non-ticketed) were well-intentioned, but SingTel probably didn’t expect the huge crowd that turned up. As I left (to catch the live stream, as a consolation), many were still hanging around the cooking and demonstration area, hoping to – I guess – catch a whiff of the competing dishes.
I blame myself, haha. Had I been more committed (and free), we would’ve traipsed down earlier, and to the chicken rice and laksa locations too. People around me who did not manage to get one of the coupons were cussing and cursing as we walked back to the main food centre, complaining to the staff members (brilliantly composed and responsible, I must add) who were breaking the bad news after the cut-off point. A chill pill was what they needed.
#hawkerheroes Lesson Three: You can’t please everyone, particularly the critics (including Mr. Kwan “Sourpuss” Jin Yao).
In the lead-up to chef Ramsay’s arrival, many Singaporeans began to moan and groan: the lack of racial representation of the hawkers (a “discriminatory proposition” that is utterly ludicrous, perpetuated by mindless “celebrities” who have no clue what they’re doing, because local hawker cuisine unites Singaporeans), and the perceived commercialism involved, with Jumbo Seafood Restaurant raised as the prime example. In my opinion, SingTel can shortlist its contestants in whatever fashion it prefers (since it is managing the event), but in fact chef Ramsay’s sojourn has done nothing but raise the profile of Singapore fare, showcased his humility, and created a healthy buzz amidst our monotonous routines.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed the final production, but it was miserably sub-par.
#hawkerheroes Lesson Four: When doing a live production, make sure: your host is well-trained and well-rehearsed; that segments are planned cohesively to make for a longer, more meaningful programme; and that your audience is actually entertained. What a waste of potentially good air-time with chef Ramsay and the hawkers.
So what happens next? A Gordon Ramsay Singapore (he hinted at a MasterChef in Singapore, and a dining establishment too)? SingTel launching a “Save our Hawkers” campaign, with the victorious Hawker Heroes leading the charge? A new culinary television programme here (someone should let Channel 5’s The “Maverick” Chef know of his bland offerings)?
Now it’s time to save up, to dine at one of his restaurants.