Now that Singapore is finally getting our very own MasterChef reality cooking competition show, a whole batch of amateur local cooks has the opportunity to take their culinary aspirations out of their home kitchens and into the hearts of television viewers.
This also means they will be willingly subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of the three established chefs who serve as MasterChef Singapore’s resident judges: Damian D’Silva, executive chef of Eurasian-Peranakan restaurant Folklore; Bjorn Shen, chef-owner of modern Middle Eastern restaurant Artichoke; and Audra Morrice, the MasterChef Australia finalist, who also served as a judge on MasterChef Asia.
Expect a version of MasterChef that has its own distinct identity, said Audra, a Singaporean who is based in Sydney. “What we’ve done here in Singapore is so unique. We’ve got such a cultural mix here, so it showcases a lot of what’s great about this country – the cultures, the people.”
But what should we expect from the judges, who always make or break any reality competition show? Who’s the good cop? Who’s the scary one? And what should you absolutely not do if you don’t want to get on their nerves?
What are your distinct personalities as judges?
Bjorn: Audra is the crybaby.
Audra: Oh stop it! No lah. Okay once.
Audra: I am a very emotionally driven person. Because I’ve been in their position before, I think I was very emotionally invested in what they were doing. And actually, judging comes with quite a big responsibility because you want to be constructive, but you also don’t want to break someone’s spirit.
If they think they’ve done something amazing but it’s not, it’s our responsibility to go, ‘Actually ah, this is really crap’. You know, it’s like your mother – what’s the saying?
Bjorn: Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Audra: They’re like your kids and you want them to succeed.
Bjorn: I’m the one who’s not afraid to show a lot of emotion when I eat something that I like. I had some very big reactions to certain things. So yeah, I’m quite animated in that way but then again, that’s not engineered. I am generally like that in real life.
Of course, there were things that I didn’t like and there were things I was very honest about: ‘No, this is not good’. In those cases, I tend to be a little bit more reserved. I talk to them like how I’d talk to anyone working for me – I’m quick to praise but when it’s time to criticise, I take a very indirect approach. We are here to build people up, not to break them down.
Damian: I’m evil (laughs). I am very direct. If I see something’s wrong, I will go ahead and tell you it’s wrong. My thoughts are, if you want to do something, you do it right the first time. If you take three sessions to get it right, then do something else.
But actually, I’m really not that strict. There are some things that I might like that Bjorn might not like. There are some things that Bjorn might like and Audra might not like. That’s what’s wonderful about watching this show – we don’t all agree.
What we’re getting from this is that Damian’s pretty much the Simon Cowell of this show.
Audra: He looks very serious when he doesn’t smile, so you think there are black clouds looming over him. But what it translates to is real passion for what his beliefs are and what he does for a living. He brings with him that sense of respect, so when he talks, people listen.
Bjorn: He is the most misunderstood. I think out of the three of us, I’m the pickiest eater. Like, I don’t eat any offal. I do not eat porridge. I have the taste buds of a 12-year-old.
Audra: My 12-year-old is not like you.
Bjorn: So, my challenge was, if I was presented something (I don’t like), how do I judge it fairly? But we all had a knack for different things. I think Damian had a knack for looking at whether someone was making a traditional dish with soul. Audra was really looking for someone who could channel some memories and cook from their hearts.
And I was always looking out for people who had clear, crystallised ideas from the start, rather than running to the pantry every five minutes going, ‘Oh this looks cool’, and then cobbling a dish together.
What are your pet peeves when it comes to stuff that cooks do?
Audra: Double dipping. And then we have to taste the food. I hate that. Oh, and knife management.
Bjorn: Yeah. Some of the knives were returned with massive chips in them. People were using them to open cans or something.
Audra: Disorganisation and mess. If your bench is chaotic, you can’t possibly have a clear view of what you’re trying to create.
Bjorn: Yes. Your bench is a reflection of what’s going on in your head. If you’ve got a clear idea, you work neatly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, your bench is a mess.
Also, I don’t like pretentious plating. I call them skid marks. When you spread sauce on a plate, it’s so that you can put your food on top of that sauce; not so that you can make a design with it. Because that design, honestly, looks like you took a walk in the park, stepped in dog sh*t, slipped and went, ‘Whoa!’.
Especially when you do a skid mark with a chunky ingredient. You can do it with a smooth puree – that looks good. But when you do it with something chunky, oh my goodness. And then you show it off by not putting anything over it – oh, cringe fest.
Damian: Whatever you put on your plate, make sure it’s edible. Like when you put a whole sprig of rosemary – come on. Why? Why do you have to do that?
Bjorn: If you put, like, one piece of parsley on the top – what’s the point of that? Did it elevate the dish? Most people would just take that away and put it on the side before they start eating. That’s 1960s ‘western food’.
Audra: And if you’re going to go down that path, you might as well give me that carved cucumber and tomato, or a swan or a rose. Go the distance.
Damian: And I hate things that come in ‘north-south-east-west’.
(Everyone exclaims in agreement)
Audra: We had some compasses and clocks. Like, when you put an egg in the middle and then cucumbers all around like a sundial. I hate symmetry. Never put anything that’s symmetrical in front of me.
Bjorn: Or when you cut shapes out of stuff because you think they look good. They look like you gave a project to a bunch of three-year-olds to do.
Catch MasterChef Singapore starting Sep 2 at 9.30pm on Mediacorp TV Channel 5 and Toggle Catch-up.