Inmates cook from the heart during Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling presenting Adam (not his real name) with his award at the annual Yellow Ribbon competition on Feb 25, 2021. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PRISON SERVICE

SINGAPORE - Drug offender Adam hasn't had much to look forward to behind bars but when the chance came to cook a meal for his mum he jumped at it.

Adam (not his real name) whipped up a pan-seared seabass with salsa verde and mashed potato that was delivered to his mum's doorstep as part of the Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition 2021.

He told the media last week that making his mum happy and proud was his greatest satisfaction throughout competition: "She's been visiting me quite frequently, from the visiting I then realised how important my mum is and that she really cares a lot. I didn't know that when I was outside, I was even rude to her," he added.

Adam, 23, first discovered his interest in cooking when he was 12 watching his mother Marie (not her real name), 51, in the kitchen. She in turn kept his passion on the boil by sending him cookbooks while he has been in prison.

His culinary skills have certainly gone down a treat: On Thursday (Feb 25), his dish bagged fourth prize at the annual Yellow Ribbon competition, which involved 38 inmates this year.

Safe-distancing measures meant only virtual training from Singapore Chefs' Association on basic food hygiene, safety and preparation as well as virtual judging, with judges tasting dishes and providing feedback via video.

Ms Low Yen Ling, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry as well as Culture, Community and Youth, said the competition aims "to equip inmates with skills relevant to the food and beverage industry to enhance their employability after their release".

Yellow Ribbon Singapore is helping inmates with employment after their release by teaming up with food and beverage industry partners and training institutions.

Inmates can also hone their skills at courses aligned with Singapore's Skills Framework and gain hands-on training at Hope Cafe and The Changi Tearoom in the Changi Prison Complex.

Anne, 78, she hopes her 45-year-old son James (not their real names), who came third in the competition, will pursue a career in the culinary industry.

"(When I visit him) he cries a lot and says, 'Mama sorry,' but I just tell him to make sure he doesn't go back to prison. I hope when he comes out he will do more cooking because he cooks so well."

Anne (not her real name), mother of James (not his real name), waving as James was announced the second runner-up of the Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition on Feb 25, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The participants were helped by mentors Dexter Lim, executive sous chef at TWG Tea Singapore, and Mr Royce Lee, head chef in the research and development of food products at H&Z Mart.

Mr Lee, who is also an ex-offender, said: "I've been through what they've been through. I told them in cooking you have to cook from the heart (and) make sure that when your family (tastes it), they feel emotional. That's the best thing you can do for your mum or dad when you're inside."

Adam's meal seems to have had this effect on his mother.

She said after watching her son receive his prize: "I'm so proud of him, just speechless... I'm sure now he will go back and browse through the (cook)books to get more ideas."

Adam (not his real name) whipped up a pan-seared seabass with salsa verde and mashed potato that was delivered to his mum's doorstep. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE PRISON SERVICE, KEVIN LIM

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