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“Wok Stars” set to serve up fiery kitchen drama

Singapore celebrity chef and “Wok Stars” judge Willin Low talks about the culinary reality show, the first show of its kind which focuses on hawker food, and reveals why he’d take part too if he was just starting out.

SINGAPORE: Sixteen contestants from all walks of life, including a former firefighter and a single mother of five, will compete to reinvent classic hawker dishes and impress the judges to win a S$30,000 cash prize, along with a one year rent-free hawker stall in the upcoming reality show “Wok Stars”.

While it may resemble popular overseas culinary reality shows like “MasterChef” at first glance, “Wok Stars” judge, Singapore celebrity chef Willin Low, says “Wok Stars” is quite different as it has a very strong local flavour.

“It is the first such reality show that is based on hawker food. Hawkers are a big part of our daily lives here.

“Shows like 'MasterChef' don’t have the local references which audiences here can identify with,” said Low.

“This show aims to find a new hawker star. It’s a great time to have the show because the whole society is debating about [the future of] hawkers.”

Low added that he was impressed by the contestants’ passion for cooking; pointing out that a number of them had even given up their day jobs to be on “Wok Stars”.

Alas, there can be only one winner.

“The good bit is I get to eat all the good stuff.

“The bad part about being a judge on the show is I have to send people home,” said Low.

He explained that there were times when he had to eliminate contestants who have a lot of potential, as they could not deal with the pressure and failed to cook their dish properly.

Fortunately for Low, it is three-star Michelin chef Alvin Leung, the other judge on “Wok Stars”, who breaks the bad news, and often comes down hard on the contestants.

“Alvin is somebody who is very fierce and very impatient. I’m more chill, more encouraging.

“But we both agree that having a high standard in the competition is important,” said Low with a chuckle.

It takes a special sort of person to participate in “Wok Star”.

Low revealed that contestants not only have to put up with Leung’s tongue-lashings, but also deal with bloody kitchen accidents as well as intense rivalries with their fellow competitors.

However, the rewards are also great.

“’Wok Stars’ gives aspiring hawkers the perfect platform. It gives you publicity, money and a rent-free stall. It’s almost like an insurance policy! You can’t go wrong!” said Low.

The chef, who gave up his career as a lawyer to follow his passion for cooking, added that he’d join the competition too if he was just starting out.

Even with Leung presiding over the competition?

Low paused for a moment before saying that he’d do it anyway, though he realised that it may simply be because he hasn’t been on the receiving end of one of Leung’s tirades.

“My mother has this Hokkien saying which goes ‘The newborn calf isn’t afraid of the tiger.’

“Of course sometimes you may get eaten!” said Low, bursting into laughter, alluding to Leung’s truly fiery temper.

“Wok Stars” airs every Wednesday, 8pm on Channel 5.

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