1. Cuisine

SgEatWithUs: What I Look For When Judging a Home Chefs’ Competition (Tips for Future Participants)

sgeatwithus @ sam Even though I was channeling Gordon Ramsay’s hellish ferociousness in the first round, SgEatWithUs invited me back to judge their friendly home-cooking competition. (Organizers are so forgiving!)

Seema Vijayvergia sgeatwithusSeema Vijayvergia & Chinese Samosas

Part of SG50, SgEatWithUs wishes to foster camaraderie among Singaporeans through food. They will hold 1 more food carnival on National Day for Singaporeans to bring their homecooked dishes, kinda like a potluck party.

Ms Gauribee sgeatwithusMs Gauribee & Vegetarian Briyani

Although this time I knew what to expect, I was still overwhelmed by the quantity and quality. The first time, there were already 31 participants and 300 carnival-goers. This time, there were 53 participants and 800 people!

megawati sgeatwithusMs Megawati & Penyat wings

Furthermore, the participants this round were more prepared. The decoration of their booths and the taste of the food could match the standards of restaurants.

deepa edwin sgeatwithusDeepa Edwin & Tuna cutlets

It was a very, very difficult task, a decision to be made within a split second of wolfing down the food. To be honest, on looking back, I felt that I didn’t do justice to many participants. Sorry.

sgeatwithusAs I was reflecting, the dishes that I gave high scores had several commonalities:

1. Food that don’t change texture and taste when cooled score higher. Judges walk around and may take some time to come to the booth, and by that time, the food will be cold. Fried food would lose their crispiness but some participants were very smart. They brought a toaster or slow cooker to heat up the food before serving.

2. Uncommon food that surprise and delight generally score highly. Judges have eaten hundred bowls of wanton mee or thousands of panna cotta before. Even if your panna cotta is the best panna cotta, it is still a panna cotta. What a participant can do is to be innovative. Instead of a plain panna, a buah keluah panna cotta would be more exciting.

3. Understand the theme of the competition. The theme for this friendly competition is home-cooking, so the food should evoke a feeling of home.

4. Understand the conditions of the competition:

a. What are the judging criteria? For instance, the judging criteria for this competition includes the decoration of the booth and the creativity of the food. So while many participants scored highly for taste, they didn’t do so well for the decoration and creativity.

b. How many participants are there? If there are 6 participants, judges may take a few bites from each dish. But here, there were 53 participants! So the judge would probably only take a bite each. Make sure that one spoonful that the judge takes contains the best combination. For example, if you’re serving laska, you may want to prepare a spoonful of noodles, gravy, cockle, fish cake for the judge.

c. Don’t give the judge choices. Judges eat everything. Don’t ask the judge if they want it with more vinegar or with chilli. A participant should present the best version of the dish to judges. If you think the dish tastes better with chilli, put it in. Furthermore, don’t present 2 different dishes. It gets confusing for the judge.

* * *

These are some participants who did well:

Mdm Tee Toon Jee’s HAINANESE COCONUT KUEH (E BUA, 海南薏粑粿)

Tee Toon Jee sgeatwithusI was unable to contact Mdm Tee who made the traditional, and rarely seen Hainanese snack, E Bua. This was the first time I ate it. It is a kueh made from grated coconut, sweetened with black sugar. It has a nutty flavor from peanuts and sesame, and an aroma from the pandan, and an excitement from a bit of ginger.

Tee Toon Jee sgeatwithus e-buaYou can see why the dish scored well; it satisfied all rules of my judging criteria.

Mrs Fiona Chua’s TOFU RICE

Fiona Chua sgeatwithusFiona invented this dish at the age of 9, and now she has a child around that age.

tofu rice sgeatwithusThe reasons Fiona did well were because her food was innovative and homely, satisfying the theme of the carnival. She also generously shared her recipe in the display and was able to explain her concept well.


Pang Shie Wee sgeatwithusTaken from SGEatWithUs’s facebook

I’m Hakka and I hate thunder tea rice, a Hakka dish. I have always found it strange to pour bitter tea over rice (although Japanese do it too). But Shie Wee’s thunder tea rice won me over.

His tea was closer to the Japanese version (a dry, mild sweetness) than to the traditional bitter Chinese tea, although he used Chinese tea leaves. His tea was broth-like, which was why this dish worked for me. It is nice to follow tradition but sometimes we have to adapt to the times. Our tastes have changed, and I love it that Shie Wee has modified the dish to suit the modern taste bud.

He still made the tea via the traditional method of mortar and pestle. The grinding sound of tea leaves is thunderous, and that’s how it got its name.

One other thing that impressed me was how he gathered his friends to help him, making it a team effort, which is the point of SGEatWithUs. Some friends, who aren’t Hakka, suggested that if we didn’t like it with tea, they could substitute tea with hae bee hiam. Among his friends, an angmoh spoke with a Singaporean accent!

Mdm Jayalalitha Moorthy’s CHOW CHOW BATH

Jayalalitha Moorthy SGEatWithUsChow Chow Bath is not a dog bathing; it is a 2-in-1 vegetarian dish with savory and sweet components, both using semolina as main ingredient. Although the dish violated Rule 4(c) of my judging criteria, it was very shiok to eat a mouthful of the slightly spicy part, and to extinguish the heat with the sweet.

chow chow bath sgeatwithusPhoto supplied by Mdm Jayalalitha

Furthermore, I had just returned from Chennai on a gastronomic tour, and hadn’t heard of chow chow bath, a South Indian dish. It is a very smart dish to enter into a home cooking contest because it is uncommon and homely, adhering to Rules 2 & 3 of my judging criteria.

Jayalalitha learnt this dish from her mother who lives in India. Her husband didn’t like the dish at first and so she modified it, adding vegetables to the recipe. And now everyone loves it, including me.


Chong Ing Wei SgeatwithusIng Wei was the big winner that day, winning best food and third in booth decoration. He used to be an army regular, and left his job to pursue his passion and dream of opening a cafe one day. He graduated from At-Sunrice, and is currently an assistant pastry chef, learning the ropes.

earl gray vanilla custard puff sgeatwithusReason for his high scores: His booth display was not only aesthetically pleasing, the puff was fantastic, better than most cafes’ offerings. Smooth, aromatic, and balanced. Very impressive.


Other photos at the carnival:

sgeatwithus singapore art museum Taken from SGEatWithUs’s facebook

sgeatwithusTaken from SGEatWithUs’s facebook

NoridayuMrs Noridayu & yellow glutinous rice with chicken rendang

Seema Melwani

dahi vada sgeatwithusKanika Modi’s Dahi Vada

natalia kho pizza sgeatwithusNatalie Kho’s Pizza

khaman sgeatwithusRashida Taher’s Khaman

maki sushi sgeatwithusYukiko Maathur’s Maki Sushi

hia kueh sgeatwithusMdm Teng’s Hia Kueh

sgeatwithus goodie bagGoodie Bag

For more information, visit SGEatWithUs and their facebook.

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