Talk about a twist of fate: in the third episode of MasterChef Singapore, Nicholas Koh was sent home, just off the heels of his appointment as team captain.
Here’s how it all went down: two teams, headed by Episode 2 challenge winners Aaron Wong and Nicholas, competed to feed 200 hungry students at the Singapore Sports School. Nicholas’ team lost, meaning the team members were pitted against each other in the subsequent elimination challenge. Despite wow-ing the judges in the previous week’s episode with his "Longevity Fish", Nicholas buckled under stress – to the point of slicing open his thigh during the last 10 minutes of the challenge – and his Japanese curry came up woefully short.
After all the tears he shed onscreen, you’d think Nicholas would still be reeling in heartbreak, especially since he quit his job just to appear on MasterChef. But in our exit interview, Nicholas insists that he has no regrets, instead using the experience as a lesson in stress management, as well as an opportunity to pursue his true passion in life: food.
TOGGLE: What would you have done differently if you could redo the challenges?
NICHOLAS: I would have tried to calm myself more, pace myself well, and organise my table of ingredients before starting. When I cut my leg, I tore the side of my pants and just let the medic work on the wound while I was cutting, to save whatever time I have to make it work.
In the elimination challenge last episode, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I was facing my own teammates and I didn’t want to lose anybody. And curry is not my strength. Not wanting to lose my teammates because I love them so much, plus the pressure of the time really killed me and I failed that part.
How did your wife feel about all this? Has she commented on your cooking skills lately or on the leg chopping thing?
During the show, she would worry about me! I can be careless at times, like how I used my apron to wipe the chopper [and cut myself]. On the day I cut my leg, my wife fetched me, saw that my pants had a hole, saw it had a bandage, and said, “Why do you make me so worried about you? (Laughs) She nagged at me in the car, and ended with, where should we go eat? Do you want to do something about your pant leg first?” And I was like, aiya never mind (Laughs). But nowadays she says the portion of food I make is more acceptable – as in smaller – and she doesn’t feel like such a pig eating all of it.
Did you pick up any new cooking techniques during your MasterChef journey?
Definitely when it comes to pasta. I’ve never owned a pasta machine at home and I’ve seldom ever done much with it. At home, you can make pasta quite freely, no rush, but in the competition, I had trouble handling the machine and it cost me in the moment. But if I had to do that again right now, it would be different. After the competition, I cooked a lot, and now I can make a nice ravioli that is bursting! Even during the competition, after filming would end, I’d go home and practice in the middle of the night, sleep at 5 AM, then get up two or three hours later to go to the studio. I would read a lot of books and websites and experiment with different ingredients and portion sizes.
From your demeanour, the show clearly had an impact on your life.
This changed me so much – my love for food grew a lot more and gave me confidence in what I’m doing. I’ve always cooked at home for myself. I never thought my food would be worthy to serve or for judges to acknowledge that it is nice, or that it could even go into restaurants. Getting this acknowledgement gave me the confidence to pursue my food dreams.
And my greatest reward is the friends I made who are food lovers as well. We share recipes with each other and would mingle during down time. I would learn about what Sharon and Sowmiya make, then apply it to my own technique, which is molecular gastronomy. MasterChef is not about the prize, it’s about the experience and being able to understand myself and new techniques while making new friends.
Any regrets about quitting your job to be on the show, given how things turned out?
No regrets! I’m happier now than before. An office job is one thing, but food makes people happy. Nowadays I have more freedom and can take my time to do what I love. I host private dining sessions in my home with different cuisines like Spanish, Japanese, Mediterranean, or Thai. Sometimes it’s ‘party-style’, sometimes it’s fine dining where things are served to you dish by dish. Or I think to myself, why not cook something for charity or host an event?
In the future, I’m planning to travel around to different countries to cultivate my knowledge of food. I’ll travel to the outskirts of Thailand and Japan, I’ll be learning from a Japanese chef, and understanding how they do things. But I’ve only planned till December!
Catch MasterChef Singapore every Sunday 9.30pm on Ch5 and on Toggle Catch-up