After nine weeks of intense competition, engineering student Derek Cheong came out on top as the Season 2 champion of MasterChef Singapore.
On Sunday's finale Apr 25), Derek, 23, narrowly beat private tutor Leon Lim, 32, in a cook-off where they had to create a three-course meal, featuring an appetiser, main dish, and a dessert.
Derek opted to showcase a four seasons-inspired menu "because we can’t travel for leisure now, I’ll try to bring the seasons to the judges." Leon’s menu, on the other, featured interpretations of his favourite hawker centre dishes.
The judges — Chefs Audra Morrice, Damian D’Silva and Bjorn Shen — had to score each course out of 10. Out of a total of 90 points, Derek racked up 78, barely edging out Leon’s 77.
Besides the MasterChef Singapore trophy, Derek also took home S$15,000 cash; a book publishing deal with Marshall Cavendish; S$3,000 worth of Nespresso products; kitchen appliances from Luzerna Chinaware, KitchenAid, Global Knives and Thermomix; S$7,000 cash from DBS Bank; internships with Chefs Damian and Bjorn; and a Fullerton Hotel staycation and spa package.
Additionally, Mediacorp will continue to support and assist both Derek and Leon in pursuing their passion for cooking, including an opportunity for a commercial representation by The Celebrity Agency.
“This is it — I am Singapore’s next MasterChef!” said Derek in a statement. “This is really a dream come true for me. When I was younger, I imagined myself one day to be in the MasterChef kitchen carrying that trophy, with confetti falling around me. I feel like I am one step closer to fulfilling my dream of opening my own restaurant to showcase who am I on a plate.”
He added, “I have grown tremendously as a cook in the MasterChef Kitchen. To be a good chef, it is important to be mentally strong as you must be able to handle pressure and thrive in immense situations. I believe this life-changing experience will allow me to soar to greater heights and guide me in my journey to become a professional chef.”
Here, the newly-minted MasterChef winner tells 8days more about his experience on the show.
8 DAYS: In the finale, you had to cook a three-course meal. How would you react if you have to do a five-course Asian-inspired banquet instead, like what last year’s finalists did?
DEREK CHEONG: I would say I got lucky because I have been doing fine dining for Twelve Flavours [my private dining business] since 2019, so I would have a small advantage.
Having grown up in hawker centres, I believe I have a certain level of mastery over Asian flavours. So, I think having a five-course Asian inspired banquet would still be doable albeit more challenging. I would see Leon having a huge advantage if the challenge were Asian-themed.
You came up with the seasons-themed menu pretty fast. Have you been thinking about it for a long time?
I have been thinking about seasons for quite some time. I have always wanted to showcase produce that are in the peak of their season. I am very big on seasonality in cooking: Different things taste better when they are in season.
There was a nerve-wracking moment where Chef Audra had issues with your Summer ‘Pina Colada’ dessert. You said you started to doubt yourself. Did you have a backup plan?
I had a few alternatives using passionfruit or mango to change the overall flavour profile of the dish. But I felt that if I had an original plan all along, just go ahead with it. Be confident with my own decisions and live by it. I never second-guess myself.
Of all the kitchen gear you’ve won, which one are you most excited about?
I am most excited about having all the dinnerware from Luzerne. Because I love plates and Luzerne has some nice plates. As for electronic equipment, I would go with the multi-purpose Thermomix.
What are your favourite moments from the show?
My favourite moment would be when I got the immunity pin and used it immediately (laughs). Having used the immunity pin right after I got it was quite funny. But I think I used it wisely. Because I would not want to compete with the rest having to champion flour as an ingredient.
Who else would you love to compete against in the finale?
Oon. Having such an epic battle with him on the first episode, I think Oon would be a really strong competitor. I would also love to face Nor and Trish in the finale.
What dish/cooking technique did you pick up from the show?
I learnt how to puff scales up using hot oil for Ivan Brehm’s dish. I have been serving kinmedai with scales for Twelve Flavours ever since then! (laughs)
Your parents are rojak hawkers. Did they ever want you to carry on the business? And how did they shape your decision to pursue the culinary arts?
My parents never wanted me to go to F&B because it is tough. Growing up around hawker centres, I did not have the chance to try fine dining because I had no money. Fine dining was unknown to me. So, me being curious, decided to pursue and create fine dining dishes at home for my friends and family.
What advice would you give people hoping to compete next season?
If cooking is your passion, go for it! Just go all the way, you never know where you will end up! Do not be affected by other people’s Instagram profile of food pictures. Trust yourself and go all the way.
Are you ready to be treated like a rock star at school and restaurants?
I feel that even after winning MasterChef, my culinary journey is just starting. I am nowhere near the level of refinement and professionalism yet. It is an ongoing quest in pursuit of perfection. I am proud and honoured that I have won, but the job is not done until I have reached the pinnacle.
What’s next for you?
I am looking to work in a professional fine dining restaurant to expand my skillset and hopefully have some pop-up restaurants along the way! I will be going back to school in 2022. I think I want to take this time to pursue my passion for culinary.
Catch the complete MasterChef Singapore Season 2 on meWATCH. The encore telecast of the grand finale is on Channel 5, Wed (Apr 28), 7.30pm.