SINGAPORE - If there is one thing that TV shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef have shown, it is that cooking is far from the most stress-free task in the world, with contestants having to prepare dishes on time without cracking under pressure.
For a group of seven chefs representing Singapore at the prestigious Expogast Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg later this year, there will be double the pressure due to the fact that the Republic goes into the competition as defending champions, having won the last two events in 2014 and 2010, as well as back in 1998.
Countries including Norway, Switzerland, China, Canada, Sweden and United States will also be competing in the tournament, which is held every four years like its football counterpart.
There are two segments of the contest - culinary and pastry art, and "hot kitchen".
The latter requires teams to prepare a three-course menu for 120 people from scratch in just five hours.
Teams will be judged by an international jury on presentation and innovation, composition, correct professional preparation and serving arrangement.
"We need to plan every detail carefully and ensure the recipes are precise and accurate too," said Mr Nixon Low, executive chef at Tung Lok Group who will be Team Singapore's captain. "It is almost like cooking blindfold - that is the level of difficulty we are talking about. Every single detail is crucial."
Mr Low was previously an assistant at the 2014 competition. "I've seen the pressure my seniors have been through," he added. "I know what kind of pressure I'll face and I am going to be the one to calm everyone down."
"Being an assistant to becoming a main member of the team is totally different and I hope everything will go smoothly."
This year, the team will be boosted by Nanyang Polytechnic's (NYP) Asian Culinary Institute (ACI) partnership with the Singapore Chefs' Association (SCA) to train the defending champions.
The formalisation of the ACI and SCA partnership was held at the Lifelong Learning Institute on Friday (July 6).
The tie-up will also see the launch of culinary masterclasses for professionals on topics such as cook chill technology and kitchen design.
New Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) programmes will also be available for those fulfilling other roles in professional kitchens.
The partnership will also mean that there is now a permanent "training ground" for the chefs at the ACI in Eunos Road.
"Previously, we had to run everywhere from hotels to restaurants and see who could lend us their kitchen for us to train in but now it is great that we have a dedicated training area for our chefs to train at," said Mr Louis Tay, 53, executive chef at Swissotel Merchant Court and a member of the winning team in 2014. He is one of eight mentors guiding the current team in their preparations.
Mr Tan Jek Min, director of the ACI, said the institute wants to deepen the skills of chefs in Singapore and offering a training ground for the national team is one way to do that.
“(The ACI-SCA partnership) is also a chance for all members of the SCA, as well as any food and beverage industry professional, to upgrade themselves as well,” he said.
The rest of the Singapore team, chosen by the SCA, is made up of team manager Mr Kong Kok Kiang, executive chef at Sentosa Golf Club; Miss Sherine Lim; sous chef at Purple Sage; Mr Hoo Zhi Hao, sous chef at Lavish Catering; Mr Sebastian Wong, chef de Partie at Odette; Mr Jason Goh , pastry chef at Grand Copthorne Waterfront; and chef Mr Koh Han Jie.
The Culinary World Cup is organised by the Vatel-Club Luxembourg - the Luxembourg professional chefs association which is also a member association of the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS). It will be held from Nov 23 to Nov 29 in Luxembourg.