Failure to follow recipe led to Aaron Wong’s MasterChef downfall

The self-declared “rebel” says following instructions is not in his DNA

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Photos: MasterChef Singapore

He created some of the most memorable dishes on MasterChef Singapore and was one of the hot favourites of the competition, but on Sunday night, the dream of winning the title came to an end for Aaron Wong.

The photographer had to give up his apron after losing a pressure test where contestants had to follow a recipe to replicate Chef Bjorn Shen’s Balls Belly Squash. Right off the bat, the self-declared “rebel” knew following a recipe to a T would be a challenge, and true enough, he made some boo-boos, deviated from the instructions, and that cost him the competition.

“If you ask me if I have any regrets, I would have been happier if [I was eliminated] because of a bad dish, but it tasted okay, it just looked slightly different, so that to me was a bit of a pity. But at this stage of the competition, you can’t really make any mistakes. It only goes to show how tough it is when you get to the Top 5,” said Aaron.

TOGGLE: You would think that a challenge that requires you to follow a recipe can’t be that tough, yet it was the cause of your downfall. Why was it so difficult for you?

AARON: My entire life, I have always had difficulty following instructions. I am the rebel in school, the anti-establishment, the guy who can’t follow a straight line. I always want to be creative and do something different and that’s the basis of my personality. So when you give me a set of instructions, I find it so hard to follow it. It’s not that I don’t want to, but it is generally not in my DNA, which kind of explains why I did so well in invention tests and Mystery Box challenges because that’s when you need to invent something and be different. But all of a sudden when you throw me something that I have to follow to a T, it becomes a little bit difficult for me.

At the start of the pressure test, you said it was going to be a challenge for you to have to follow the recipe step by step. Do you think having that doubt set you up for failure?

I was trying very hard to follow the recipe but at some point, there were some doubts being thrown in about my steps so I started to self-doubt a little bit, and things kind of unravelled from there and I could not recover from it.

If you ask me in hindsight if there was something I could have done better, I think I shouldn’t have doubted myself, I shouldn’t have listened to some of the comments from the judges, I should have stuck to that piece of paper and believed in it. When I started to question myself, I started to back-track and things started to fall apart from there. 

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Which of the dishes you made on the show are you most proud of?

The lu rou fan in Episode 1 because I am paying homage to my grandfather. That was a dish that he did and I reinvented it. I like to take old classic dishes and put something interesting in it [and in this case it was] the lup cheong cracker. If you follow me on social media, you would know everyone is crazy about that dish. I have so many people enquiring how to do this dish and [there are even offers to invest in a stall] to sell it. I’m like “Yeah right!” (laughs)

Since we are on the topic of giving your own spin to classic dishes, what do you think is the most underrated local dish and how would you reinvent it?

There are so many. One of them is fish soup, which I made on MasterChef. It is such a simple dish of soup and fish slices. And what I did on the show is I made the ginger tuile (cracker), pan-seared the fish instead of deep frying it… I basically deconstructed the dish but each of the components was still within it but in a neater, smaller package. Another one could be chwee kueh, which consists of just flour and chai poh (preserved vegetable). I would blend the vegetables into a puree and the kueh itself could be a vessel of another shape to hold it or like a bao.

What’s next for you after MasterChef?

It is my dream to open a restaurant. That is still a long way down the road and might happen eventually. But right now I am focusing on the private dining sector. I think it’s fun, allows for a lot of creativity, you can design your own menu, and generally something fun to do as a chef. So that’s one direction. And if anybody thinks I look decent enough on TV to front a little show on travelling and cooking, that would be fantastic because it completely falls in line with what I do as a photographer and as a chef.

Catch MasterChef Singapore every Sunday 9.30pm on Ch5 and on Toggle Catch-up.

Related: 
Being a vegetarian is not a disadvantage in MasterChef: Sowmiya Venkatesan​​​​​​​
I quit my job to be on MasterChef Singapore (and got eliminated): Nicholas Koh
Life after MasterChef Singapore: Joshua and Vidhya

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