Cooking for President a dream come true for him

Singaporean cook Paul Simon's dream was to make lunch for President Halimah Yacob. On Wednesday (Jan 24), his wish came true.
The three dishes that Mr Simon made for President Halimah Yacob were (from left) mango salsa salad, chicken briyani and sweetcorn sago. Mr Paul Simon, who was one of seven people with disabilities featured in an article to mark the International Day
Mr Paul Simon, who was one of seven people with disabilities featured in an article to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons, preparing the garnish for the chicken briyani in the Istana yesterday. The President praised Mr Simon's cooking, saying that he could have a very good career ahead.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The three dishes that Mr Simon made for President Halimah Yacob were (from left) mango salsa salad, chicken briyani and sweetcorn sago. Mr Paul Simon, who was one of seven people with disabilities featured in an article to mark the International Day
The three dishes that Mr Simon made for President Halimah Yacob were (from left) mango salsa salad, chicken briyani and sweetcorn sago. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

S'pore cook invited to prepare lunch at Istana after Madam Halimah read about him in ST

As a Singaporean, cook Paul Simon's ambition was to make lunch for President Halimah Yacob.

Yesterday, his wish came true when the head of state enjoyed a three-course meal he prepared at the Istana.

"I never expected to get this chance," said Mr Simon, who works at Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa. "I was shocked when I got a call from HR (human resources) in late December (asking me to cook for the President)."

Madam Halimah was touched after reading a report in The Straits Times last month in which the 26-year-old expressed his desire to cook for her, and asked her staff to reach out to Mr Simon.

He was one of seven people with disabilities to be featured in an article to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons.

The cook, who has two younger siblings, is a graduate of the APSN Delta Senior School and has a mild intellectual disability.

Mr Simon said he wanted to choose three dishes that would go well together, so he plumped for mango salsa salad, chicken briyani and sweetcorn sago.

The briyani gravy was based on a family recipe passed on to him by his mother, who had inspired him to start cooking when he was just 14.

"The starter is light and refreshing, to prepare for the main course, which is of stronger flavour. The dessert is hot, so it will go down smoother," he said.

He spent yesterday morning slicing red chillies, mixing the briyani gravy and sampling the rice to ensure it was just the right texture. The Istana had bought the ingredients before he arrived at 9am.

Mr Simon told The Straits Times that he was nervous, especially as it was his first time at the Istana.

But he quickly got into his stride with some assistance from junior sous chef Muhammad Adi Rezza Fauzilan, 28, who is the President's personal chef.

Madam Halimah praised Mr Simon's cooking, saying that the salad was "very good and fresh", while the rice was "light and fluffy".

"You can have a very good career (in cooking), because good food will never go out of date... Good food, good cooking is always welcome," said Madam Halimah, as they enjoyed dessert together for about half an hour.

Mr Simon said: "I really want to open my restaurant in the future, so for now, I'm trying to go for more studies and be more stable first."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Cooking for President a dream come true for him'. Print Edition | Subscribe