MasterChef Asia winner taking it easy

Part-time bartender Woo Wai Leong wants to prepare himself before opening his own restaurant

MasterChef Asia winner Woo Wai Leong is in no hurry to bank on his big win and start his own restaurant.

The 27-year-old Singaporean, who took home the coveted title in the hit reality television cooking competition last night, says the dining scene here is simply too unpredictable for him to just jump in without a proper plan.

"You can have a restaurant with big-name chefs and all the right backers, but it can still close down quickly.

"It is too premature for me to open my own place without getting some proper training first, to learn about management and how to run a restaurant," he adds.

So what will he do with the US$50,000 (S$70,200) cash prize that came with the title?

"Just save it for now, I guess. There are probably a lot of fancy kitchen toys I could buy with the money, but I won't be needing them yet.

"I'm not the type of guy to splurge on things. I don't even buy new shoes until they fall apart," says the part-time bartender and former lawyer.

In the finale that aired yesterday, he beat 24-year-old Malaysian contestant Marcus Low to the title in a high-tension, three-part challenge.

For the mystery box challenge, during which they had to whip up a dish using a bunch of surprise ingredients on the spot, he prepared a pan-roasted quail on top of a puree of chocolate and cauliflower, drizzled with a pan sauce of lavender.

For the second challenge, during which they could cook anything they wanted, he made a salad of carrots roasted in coffee as well as short ribs with a brown-butter puree and mirin-glazed leeks.

Finally, in what is known as the pressure test - during which contestants re-create a dish from a well-known chef - he made a mango lassi dessert with liquid nitrogen, using a recipe from award-winning Bangkok restaurant Gaggan.

As Woo recounts the intensity of the finale taping, he looks relieved that it has come to an end.

The self-taught home cook says with a chuckle: "If you ask me to do MasterChef Asia all over again at this point of time, I might say no.

"Still, I'm glad I did it. I had never been in a situation where I was surrounded by so many people who love food and know so much about food. Getting to know all these people in this contest - that's the amazing part."

He still keeps in regular contact with his 14 fellow contestants, he says, who hail from all over Asia, including India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"We're all in this big WhatsApp chat group and we just talk about, what else, food," he says with a laugh.

Even though he has no concrete plans to start a restaurant in the future, it is nonetheless a dream he harbours.

The bachelor, who is the second of four children, says: "When I'm ready, I'll definitely love to do that. I want to open a restaurant where the chefs can be inventive and cook whatever they want. That kind of freedom is exciting to me."

  • Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee
  • MasterChef Asia will rerun on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514) every day at 11am, starting Dec 28.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'MasterChef Asia winner taking it easy'. Print Edition | Subscribe