It is Tuesday afternoon in a kitchen in Jurong and Joseph Schooling is battling an obstinate rival. Swimmers are easier to flatten than the dough before him. He might be a natural in the water, but on land his stroke with the rolling pin needs a little technical work.
Schooling is at the headquarters of caterers Neo Garden to help in a wonderful cause. His hosts and the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) have banded together to raise funds for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and the SSA and this was the launch of their drive.
The idea was neat: Get an explosive talent to make a curry bomb. So they clad a usually underdressed Schooling in gloves, mask, cap and gown for hygiene reasons and let him play among the pots and pans.
The curry bomb is a giant dome-sized bun with a pot of curry chicken within. Think of it as a gift wrapped in bread, which can feed a family of four or one glutton. The box which contains it lists the steps on how to eat it and befitting a dish named after an incendiary device it comes with gloves included. Best to be careful.
Schooling can offer a cause many things, but he was giving this his most precious one - his time. Later this month he flies to the US to resume training with coach Sergio Lopez, but athletes always have time for food for it sustains them. And Schooling swims the butterfly which, by the way, is a term for a very specific way to cut meat.
Food is an athletic fascination. Gymnasts peck at their plates, weightlifters eat the occupants of entire chicken coops and baseballer Babe Ruth's sizeable appetite was profiled in an article brilliantly titled The Sultan Of Swallow. Bjorn Frantzen, who played football for AIK in Sweden, had such fine taste buds that he started a restaurant which now has three Michelin stars.
Schooling, wearing a smile and a slim look, learned how to whip up pasta and an avocado-rich breakfast during his days in America - "I like the tranquillity of cooking," he says - but does less of his culinary work now. And there's a lot to be done for like a refuelling jet he eats four to five meals a day (soft-boiled eggs, salmon, chicken breast, buckwheat noodles) and is trailed constantly by a box of blueberries.
His Olympic gold in 2016 was won after a final meal of cereal, milk and fruit and after some rapid mental maths he revealed that of 28 meals a week he allows himself only three cheat meals. The last one? Hokkien mee. But it's best he only cooks the curry bomb and doesn't eat it, for as he says, "I'm not sure my nutritionist would be too happy."
If there was a light-hearted air in the building, there was also the powerful smell of generosity. Neo Garden is the SSA's official food and beverage partner and Neo Kah Kiat, the founder and chairman of the group, said his company has a "strong culture of giving".
Proof was in his numbers. When the fund raiser was being discussed, he thought, "Why don't I donate 10,000 curry bombs so you can raise money" and thus a fine idea was born.
Each curry bomb costs $18.80 and the fund-raising drive which began yesterday stretches till the end of the year. To buy one is to help a needy student or a struggling swimming coach. All it requires is effort, which is what Schooling was putting in.
Great athletes are suckers for a scrap and for Schooling it was with the dough. Even in the kitchen his competitiveness flared and his focus sharpened. Later he said the process was tedious and that he had to be patient and his words were uncanny. For they were a perfect description of swimming constantly up and down a lane every day.
FOR THE FRATERNITY
"Through the fund-raising efforts we hope to upskill the local swimming coaches with free coaching workshops and assist them to secure available pool spaces. We also hope to assist developmental athletes with their training needs as their parents struggle financially during this period."
EDWIN KER, Singapore Swimming Association executive director.
FOR THE NEEDY
"In the midst of this pandemic, when low-income families need more financial help and support, we are grateful that Joseph Schooling, Neo Garden and SSA have come together to raise funds for our needy students with this very creative idea. The funds raised will enable us to continue our efforts in providing school pocket money and other resources to about 10,000 beneficiaries we support each year."
TAN BEE HEONG, The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund general manager.