Millionaire chef Jamie Oliver might not have had much of a career with just 2 GSCE passes, and Gordon Ramsay may have just been another failed footballer if they’d never discovered their culinary skills.
That life-changing realisation is something the Asian Food Channel and Resorts World™ Sentosa (RWS) are offering to 12 disadvantaged youths in Asia.
Through participating in an exciting new show, The Big Break, youths aged between 16 to 19 from Mongolia, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore get to compete for a scholarship worth over $30,000 for At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in Singapore.
Mostly set in the compounds of RWS, the contestants are under the tutelage of award winning chefs and have to go through 11 weeks of exciting culinary challenges, requiring them to replicate dishes prepared by the chef. Judges Alan Orreal, Resorts World Sentosa Executive Chef, and Farah Quinn, a celebrity chef from AFC, will then taste their food and evaluate their performance before deciding who gets eliminated every week.
Out of the 12 contestants, 2 come from Singapore. At 18, Danny Tan and Nico Chan are both promising youths specially selected from among hundreds for a chance at The Big Break.
Danny started living at Boys’ Town Singapore in 2008, when his family encountered financial difficulties. Always adventurous with food, he has always been willing to try new food items. He also wanted to find out how his favourite dishes were made and started helping out with the cooking in Boys’ Town.
Ever curious and eager to learn, Danny cherishes the moments he gets to spend in the kitchen. He tells UrbanWire, “I have a lot of opportunities to learn the basic skills of the kitchen and practise what I have learned when I prepare meals for the rest of the boys. Whenever the chef’s around, I always ask him a lot of questions.”
Looking at Nico, you’d never guess that this quiet boy was once a rebellious youth who had to be placed in a boy’s home. Describing the experience as “prison-like”, Nico now hopes to make his parents proud of him. Recalling the delicious treats his grandparents prepared for him when he was younger, he decided to try his hand at cooking too. Videos on YouTube and the occasional cooking show he caught on the Asian Food Channel further piqued his interest.
Inspired by renowned British chef, Gordon Ramsay famed for his no-nonsense attitude and profanity on popular TV reality series, Hell’s Kitchen— Nico pursued this interest in secondary school, taking Home Economics as one of his subjects. Fond memories of his cooking experiences include preparing a fried rice dish for his Home Economics exam, which he brought home to share with his parents after. “I learnt a lot from my teacher and from there, I tried to further my knowledge of cooking by searching for recipes online.”
Danny has also come a long way from when he’d heat up baked beans to eat with rice as a snack. These days, he’ll occasionally throw in some French fries made from scratch. He looks up to many of the chefs on television but he has the most admiration for everyday cooks who can whip up simple yet tasty dishes.
As participants of The Big Break, Danny and Nico have faced many challenges, but they agree that preparing their dishes within the stipulated time limit based on the challenge of that day was one of the most difficult parts of the show.
“Alan Orreal and Farah Quinn, who are both judges on The Big Break, taught me that it’s important that you not only work quick, but you also work safe in a kitchen. It takes a lot of practice to get it right!” shares Danny.
Nico also struggled with having to immediately apply everything they’d just learnt. “There was always a constant fear that we would fail to complete the dish in time,” he admits.
Despite being among the less privileged in Singapore, Danny and Nico know they’re better off than their competitors because of the moral support and care they receive from their families. “Many of the other contestants from the other countries don’t have that privilege,” says Nico. “I watched the audition rounds of The Big Break, and saw how excited the children were to even receive food products from Del Monte Asia. It was a huge eye opener.”
What do these budding chefs enjoy eating most? You can get Danny excited with something as commonplace as chicken rice. “It’s a simple yet delicious meal. I’ve learnt, however, that it’s not a simple dish to make at all.”
Nico, on the other hand, loves to indulge in a good black pepper steak.
Both share a hope for a better future through their participation in The Big Break.
“The most important thing that I have learned is that we may have different struggles in our lives, but perseverance is key. We all share an interest in cooking and because of this, we worked hard during the filming of show,” Danny shares. “This is ultimately what brought us together and helped us to connect as friends.“
And Nico feels the same way: “Taking on cooking as a profession is a way to improve my life. I joinedThe Big Break because I knew that with the right motivation, it could potentially open many doors and provide me with a lot more opportunities for my future career.
“After participating in this competition, my passion for cooking has definitely grown stronger and I’m really hoping that I can become a professional chef one day.”
For Danny, winning has never been his motive for participating in the competition. “I wanted to learn and further my knowledge of food,” he said. “it was the experience of the programme that I found most precious.”
Nico would love to win the scholarship and possibly be a celebrity chef on the Asian Food Channel. “I just want to make my parents proud of me,” he declares.
Having been given this opportunity of a lifetime at a chance to win a scholarship in their area of interest, the 2 boys also appreciate the chance to be exposed to people from other parts of Asia.
Nico shares, “The AFC and RWS crew… and all the contestants were like one big family. We spent every day together, hanging out and learning from each other.”
“It was an amazing opportunity to meet other youths just like me from countries like South Korea, Mongolia and the Philippines. I learnt about their lifestyles, their cultures and their cuisines… I will never forget those memories.”
Danny agrees, citing the friendships he formed with the other contestants and the crew as his favourite part the show. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to go through the competition with. Though we were competing against each other during the challenges, we were the best of friends and I will never forget the time that we spent together.”
Starting November 2012, catch all 12 episodes of The Big Break airingevery Wednesday, 10pm, on the Asian Food Channel.