Stall owner shows Gordon Ramsay how to make chicken rice, but keeps trade secret

The 300-strong crowd turned Maxwell Food Centre into a cauldron of screams and noise as Gordon Ramsay made his way through it.

Upon reaching the Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall, the Michelin-starred chef's voice rang out loud.

"So what's so special about this place?"

The question, though, didn't faze stall owner Madam Foo Kui Lian. With an excited grin on her face, she approached Ramsay and warmly shook his hand.

Immediately, he bombarded her with questions.

"So what's the secret in your chicken rice? What's in the chilli?"

The 64-year-old, who has helmed the stall since 1988, proceeded to guide him through the cooking process with the help of her daughter, Ms Lim Mui Yin, 40, who acted as the translator.

For the next 15 minutes, Madam Foo and Ramsay were locked in a serious culinary exchange as the renowned chef prepared for the SingTel Hawker Heroes challenge tomorrow.

Madam Foo is one of three hawkers chosen by the public to face the fiery masterchef. The other two are Mr Ang Kiam Meng from Jumbo Seafood and Mr Ryan Koh from 328 Katong Laksa.

Ramsay, on the other hand, said he is no expert on hawker food, but will try to make better versions of chicken rice, chilli crab and laksa at the cook-off.

Speaking to The New Paper in Mandarin afterwards, Madam Foo said: "I was quite nervous before meeting him because people told me he's very fierce and that he always scolds people."

"But when I met him, I found him to be very friendly."

Madam Foo also said she had not heard of Ramsay before this event was launched.

"I've not watched his shows or tasted his food before.

All I know is that he's a famous chef and I learnt of him only through this cooking competition by SingTel."

While she did guide him through the basics of making chicken rice, she maintained she kept her trade secret intact.

"He's a very experienced and talented chef," she said.

With just one glance at the chilli - which her stall is also famous for - Ramsay could figure out its ingredients, she said.

"But the secret is in the method of making the chilli. That, I kept for myself," she said with a chuckle.

With that, Madam Foo is not afraid to take on Ramsay.

'I am confident'

"I am confident. No point wondering now, we'll see who fares better come Sunday."

Ramsay was also quick to heap praise on his Singaporean counterpart.

"Madam Foo doesn't have TV shows or 15 books, but she's an absolute pro. When you have food that good, and with that amount of following, that is an inspiration."

The two-hour exchange during lunch hour yesterday also drew droves of Ramsay fans and curious onlookers. At one point, there was even a scuffle, as photographers and security personnel jostled for space.

A Ramsay fan, who wanted to be known only as Miss Chew, even took leave from work to catch her culinary idol in person.

"I visited his restaurant in London and his food was so good. I had to come down today," said the 25-year-old human resources associate.

"But when it comes to the competition, of course I'll be rooting for our fellow Singaporeans."

After his stint at Maxwell, Ramsay also visited Jumbo Seafood to learn about its signature chilli crab yesterday evening. He will be stopping by 328 Katong Laksa today.

The cook-off will take place on Sunday at Newton Food Centre.

'I'd be stupid to try and reinvent the wheel'

He has three cooking reality TV shows and multiple Michelin stars to his name.

But world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay still believes he's the underdog when it comes to the SingTel Hawker Heroes cook-off tomorrow.

Having just visited Maxwell Food Centre, the British chef told reporters he will have a tough time trying to top the flavour of Singapore's three most famous dishes - chicken rice, chilli crab and laksa.

Said Ramsay: "These chefs get their dishes absolutely right. We don't cook like that in Europe, and we don't have access to those chillies and flavours."

But he said the only way to win was to keep to the local style, and hope to better his competitors.

"I'd be stupid to try and reinvent the wheel. I'll also cause a riot if I tried to come up with another version of chicken rice," he said.

"I'm going to focus on those elements and (I'm) not going to fancify with many levels of textures. I'm going to learn that chilli sauce - that blend of chilli, garlic and ginger."

To prepare for the showdown, Ramsay said he would be "practising my a** off".

"Tonight when everyone is asleep, I'll be sneaking to the back kitchen of St Regis Hotel to practise."

He also hopes his travels around South-east Asia and his "nearly 20" visits to Singapore will provide enough experience to take on the local chefs.

"These guys don't thrive on Michelin stars and critics.

They thrive on Singaporeans willing to pay for good food," he said.

Queue

"When I arrived and I saw this queue outside (Tian Tian Chicken Rice), it says something about how successful they are - especially without the exposure."

And he will do this all on his own.

"There's only one Gordon Ramsay palate and you're looking at it. I'm not past that stage where I can't cook my own garlic or chop my own onions."

But just when it seemed that some colour - or offcolour - was missing from the usually-fiery Ramsay, he ended the doorstop interview by saying: "The pressure is on, and there's absolutely no way I can afford to f*** this up."

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