Failed panna cotta did not stop Zander Ng from winning MasterChef Singapore

“I wasn’t ready to lift the trophy yet!”

Photos: MasterChef Singapore
Photos: MasterChef Singapore
22 Oct 2018

Photos: MasterChef Singapore

After eight gruelling weeks of competition, Zander Ng has been crowned the inaugural winner of MasterChef Singapore, beating out Genevieve Lee in a tense finale that saw the pair wowing the judges with an Asian banquet.

Despite serving a failed panna cotta (it looked like a Hulk-hued liquid) and a couple of bones in his fish, Zander’s deceptively simple but flavoursome dishes were enough to give him the edge over Gen.  

“Winning MasterChef was the happiest moment. It’s been a dream of mine for ten years now. When the judges said my name, a wave of emotion came over me. I might have actually [cried],” admitted the 30-year-old after the finale aired on Sunday.

The IT manager brought home the MasterChef win with a five-course menu that was inspired by different parts of Asia.

Though the bones in his pan-fried snapper with lemongrass beurre blanc left a bad first impression, as did his underset panna cotta, the grilled flank steak with Asian chimichurri sauce, shaved fennel with soy and honey dressing, and pillowy fettuccine carbonara with sichuan peppercorns blew the judges away. Judge Audra Morrice said he could start his own pasta shop - it was that good.

“I am actually very hard on myself when it comes to cooking. Very rarely am I happy with a dish. I always critique it and see how I can improve it the next time. But all in all, I felt really good about the flavours of the dishes,” he said.

Apart from the coveted MasterChef Singapore title, Zander also scored $10,000 cash as well as internships at judges Chef Bjorn Shen and Damian D’Silva’s restaurants, which he is really pumped up about.

“Given the opportunity to work in their kitchens with them, what I can learn in a three-month period at both is more than I can do on my own in many years. I think they will be great mentors based on the relationships we have on the show,” said the winner. “I just want to learn more because this is just the beginning for me.”

(Continued on next slide: Zander shares the highlight of his MasterChef journey)

TOGGLE: Congratulations on winning MasterChef Singapore! How did it feel to lift the trophy?
TOGGLE: Congratulations on winning MasterChef Singapore! How did it feel to lift the trophy?
19 Oct 2018

TOGGLE: Congratulations on winning MasterChef Singapore! How did it feel to lift the trophy?

ZANDER: I wasn’t ready to lift the trophy yet! I just felt there’s no way I could win and that is the feeling I had at the beginning.

Now that you’ve won, would you quit your job to pursue your food dreams?

After this MasterChef experience, I had a small taste of potentially what this industry is like, I definitely want more of it.

What’s the highlight of your MasterChef journey?

Without a doubt meeting Marco Pierre White. I couldn’t even believe that happened. I was excited but terrified because I have seen him on MasterChef Australia. It was incredible being able to work with him. I had a bit of a rough cook in his kitchen, so I do apologise for making a bit of a mess on his station, but it was fun.

Speaking of hiccups, how are you always so calm in the kitchen?
Speaking of hiccups, how are you always so calm in the kitchen?
19 Oct 2018

Speaking of hiccups, how are you always so calm in the kitchen?

(Laughs) I don’t know. I think I go with the expectation that every challenge something is not going to go my way. I don’t have the personality where I will freak out or start to break down… I haven’t cried yet, thankfully. I don’t think that will do too well for me. I think I just have a real belief in the flavours I want to get on the plate and so that just sort of keeps me going. I am pretty calm.

So which of the challenges took you the most out of your comfort zone?

Probably the semi-final cook, that really pushed all of us out of our comfort zones because we were given ingredients we didn’t select, trying to come up with dishes that we hadn’t planned for and all. It does sound like a Mystery Box challenge but at the same time, you want to be delivering dishes that are worthy of a semi-final appearance.  

You’ve gotten pretty close with Gen over the course of competition. Has she inspired you in any way?

She has definitely inspired me. She is so sure of where she wants to go. She has a goal in mind and she is devoting herself completely to it. A lot of people would be too scared to do it or would go for the safe option and she doesn’t do that.

What advice would you give to future contestants?

Go in with an open mind, don’t be too fixed in your approach. Let the ingredients inspire you and quite simply embrace the madness of the competition. You will never make any dish that you think you can prepare.

In the beginning, I was trying to make dishes I thought I should be making on MasterChef. I was forcing myself to do things that weren’t natural to me. It was only when we got to the dessert challenge that I told myself this isn’t working. I just want to cook food that I love, and cook food from the heart that would make people happy. And when I embraced that, it was the turning the point for me in the competition. 

How has your life changed since being on the show? Do you get recognised on the streets?

It’s starting to happen. Actually I was just out there and a few of your colleagues came up to take photos of me. I was caught off guard. It’s starting to change for sure, in a really great way, and it’s something I will have to get used to it. This is the kind of change that I’ve been thinking about and wanting for so long, so now that it’s actually happening, it’s the best.

Semi-final  breakdown made me more humble: Genevieve Lee
Semi-final  breakdown made me more humble: Genevieve Lee
19 Oct 2018

Semi-final  breakdown made me more humble: Genevieve Lee

To say finishing second was a disappointment for Gen would be an understatement. The youngest contestant in the competition at 21, Gen had big dreams and was a daring cook who never held back. But the culinary student might have bitten off more than she could chew in the finale - and had several close calls while at it.

“It was really down to the last minute pushing out the dishes. My dessert nearly fell off the table and I was tripping over myself,” recalled Gen. “Of course I am salty about [losing]. When you’ve made it to the Top 2, you obviously want to win the final. But I’ve given my all and am very proud of what I’ve done so I have no regrets.”

Being on MasterChef has been a humbling experience for the youngster. Having survived multiple elimination challenges, she’s learned not to take things for granted and credits the judges for helping her rise to the top of her game.

“Whether I receive criticism or comments, I will work on them and understand what the judges are looking for, what they like and don’t like to eat, and from there adjust. Because being a chef is about making other people happy, not yourself.” Spoken like a true chef.

TOGGLE: So, second place? Your family must be so proud.
TOGGLE: So, second place? Your family must be so proud.
19 Oct 2018

TOGGLE: So, second place? Your family must be so proud.

GEN: They are. They are my strongest supporters. There are some people who question why I want to be a chef but my family are the ones supporting me throughout everything. They always tell me to follow my dreams and I feel that’s not advocated strongly enough within families. Usually they want you to be something you are not.

Must have been great having them at the finale.

It is very heartwarming to see them. I told my mum in the first episode that I am going to win this so that she can come on set ‘cos I was so excited to share with them everything. And when they came I was so shocked.

Things didn’t quite go so smoothly for you though. You looked like you had several hiccups.

One of the funniest things happened when I opening the wine bottle. The corkscrew that I use at home has two “wings” but this only has one so I didn’t know how to use it. [The contestants standing in the gallery were yelling instructions] but when I tried to pull the cork out, it broke! So I pushed it into the bottle and everything spurted out. I was in a mess but it was so funny even I was laughing at myself. It was nerve-wracking but also funny.

Thankfully you didn’t have a breakdown like in the semi-finals.
Thankfully you didn’t have a breakdown like in the semi-finals.
19 Oct 2018

Thankfully you didn’t have a breakdown like in the semi-finals.

To be very honest, I never expected that to happen. In my mind, I was telling myself don’t cry but I couldn’t take it and just let go. But at the same time in my head, I was thinking the producers will love this. It shows my vulnerability. This is a competition and everything is at stake. I cried because I was so close to the end and I did not want to fail. So when I was failing at so many elements of my dish, I was thinking what’s happening? This can’t happen now.

But I am grateful that I got Zander’s basket because it really pushed me to my limit and showed me life isn’t perfect all the time, it’s not all roses. You just have to work through it.

You looked a lot more confident in the final cook off.

It was because of the breakdown that I became more confident in the finale 'cos I learned not to take things for granted. If it were smooth-sailing all the way, like it was for uncle Aaron (Wong)... he’s been winning so many rounds and maybe he got cocky, so I think I was served my humble pie at a very good time.

All you 10 finalists are a pretty tight bunch. Who are you closest to?

Zander because we have been together the whole way, and our cooking styles are very similar so we like to cook at each other’s houses.

Not uncle Aaron, as you call him so affectionately?

Zander is like a buddy, while uncle Aaron is like a dad, a father figure. He really takes care of people. He’s always been rooting for me. When I won the [durian] challenge, you could see he was proud of me. He knows my potential and was secretly rooting for me even though he also wants to win, and that is very heartwarming. He told me, “You need this more than I do. You want to be a chef and you should win.” You don’t see things like that in a competition.

Photos: Instagram/@zanderng, @gen_lxn

Gen and Zander's families surprise them on set
Gen and Zander's families surprise them on set
19 Oct 2018

Gen and Zander's families surprise them on set

The eliminated contestants watching from the gallery
The eliminated contestants watching from the gallery
19 Oct 2018

The eliminated contestants watching from the gallery

The Top 10 with judges Bjorn Shen, Audra Morrice and Damian D'Silva
The Top 10 with judges Bjorn Shen, Audra Morrice and Damian D'Silva
19 Oct 2018

The Top 10 with judges Bjorn Shen, Audra Morrice and Damian D'Silva

Watch the full season of MasterChef Singapore on Toggle.sg/MasterChefSG.

Related: 
Marco Pierre White and double elimination shake up MasterChef Singapore
Failure to follow recipe led to Aaron Wong’s MasterChef downfall​​​​​​​
Being a vegetarian is not a disadvantage in MasterChef: Sowmiya Venkatesan​​​​​​​

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