Dream comes true for cook who prepares meal fit for a president

Singaporean cook Paul Simon's dream was to make lunch for President Halimah Yacob. On Wednesday (Jan 24), his wish came true.
President Halimah Yacob speaking with Mr Paul Simon before tucking into the three-course meal he prepared for her at the Istana, on Jan 24, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob speaking with Mr Paul Simon before tucking into the three-course meal he prepared for her at the Istana, on Jan 24, 2018.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

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

On Wednesday (Jan 24), 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)."

President Halimah was touched after reading a report in The Straits Times last month about the 26-year-old who 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 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 Wednesday 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 when assisted by junior sous chef Muhammad Adi Rezza, 28, who is the President's personal chef.

President Halimah praised his 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"You can have a very good career (in cooking), because good food will never go out of date...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 President 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."