After eight weeks of competition, Crème de la Crème, Mediacorp’s first Mandarin baking competition show, finally crowned its inaugural champ — culinary school student Shawn Pang.
On Wednesday’s finale (June 30), Shawn, 29, beat cake shop owner Ean Cheong, 26, and culinary school student Yeo Min, 25, in a bake-off where they had to create a dish using one of three ‘mystery’ ingredients: century egg, light soy sauce, and bitter gourd.
Yeo Min, the top performer in the semi-finals, had first dibs; she picked soy sauce. Ean chose bitter gourd while Shawn ended up with century egg.
In the end, it was Shawn who wowed the panel of judges — Jeanette Aw, Fann Wong, Chef Janice Wong, and guests Chef Daniel Tay and Rebecca Lim — with his ‘A Pot of Rice’ and walked away with the S$10,000 cash prize. ‘A Pot of Rice’ had meringue, goji berries and Japanese rice cooked in longan bubble foam, along with a century egg polenta tart.
“You put a lot of thought into even the details,” Fann raved. “So when I was eating this, I thought of the taste of the rice that my grandmother’s generation cooked with charcoal. It tasted so good.”
Shawn’s victory marked a celebratory end to a show that recently courted controversy over a mix-up during the semi-final that resulted in an unexpected elimination.
The brouhaha happened when Ean mistakenly took fellow semi-finalist Angie Lim’s mousse base while prepping to make a strawberry tart. Angie, 26, a culinary institute pastry trainer, ended up with Ean’s. Both contestants were then given the option to make another round of mousse from scratch but they both declined and decided to carry on with each other’s mousse base.
In the judging round, Angie was eliminated as the mousse-base — made by Ean — was found to contain pieces of cling wrap. Some Netizens, however, disagreed with the verdict and took to social media to protest the outcome, with Ean bearing the brunt of the vitriol.
Speaking to 8days.sg over the phone (and Whatsapp), Shawn, who’s studying at At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy, declines to comment on the Mousse-base-gate. (But he did share his initial thoughts in a lengthy Instagram post.)
The erstwhile healthcare management associate prefers to talk about the lessons from his Crème de la Crème experience.“The biggest takeaway was to really enjoy the process of baking,” Shawn says. “With the 12 contestants, people may think we are all competitive, [but] behind the scenes, everyone became friends. We were very open about sharing our ideas, our own learning lessons. It was more like a community rather than an actual intense competition.”
He continues, “The idea of shared learning was one big takeaway. I hope it would be the case for other people who may be interested in pastry or running home business.”
Anything else? “[And] to always taste my food,” he adds. “Then I’ll know the difference between my raspberry and strawberry mousse,” referring to the semi-final boo-boo that almost cost him a shot at the title.
8 DAYS: Congrats on winning Crème de la Crème! That was one spectacular comeback from the semi-final where the judges and even you yourself felt you could’ve done better.
SHAWN PANG: After the semi-final, for a period, I was struggling to accept the decision. I genuinely wanted or felt that Angie would have gone through to the finals, but then the decision had already been made and was out of my control. So I didn’t want to think too much of it anymore. The only sensible way forward is to focus on what’s ahead and, that point of time, it was the finals. I just shared with some of the friends — including [the other finalists] Ean and Yeo Min — that going into the finals, the only competitor I wanted to compete with was myself. Because I knew I didn’t do as well as I had hoped during the semis. So I wanted to be better than the person I was in the semis — rebuild the confidence and just stay focused on what I had to do.
What’s your favourite part of the competition?
The learning process. As I was preparing for each round, I tested out a lot of recipes, Googled, spoke to people. Because I am fairly new to the industry, I [learnt a lot] on a much deeper, faster pace and I am happy with what I have accomplished in this short period of time.
And you did the show in Mandarin!
I think the other big achievement is doing it in Mandarin. It’s been a long time since I’ve conversed in Mandarin — I have to thank my mum for this, frankly. Every single episode I would have to write out my concept, pre-empt some of the questions that might come out and share them with my mum. She would translate and scribble down the answers in Chinese and hanyupinyin for me lah. On the competition day, there would always be this clipboard on my table — I just have to reference it every time the three judges ask questions.
Did that in any way impede your performance?
It can get quite nerve-wracking. Because I don’t know if I am saying things right and at the same time you have to watch the cooker and everything. I have to give my thanks to the producers: every single one of us on set would have one producer at our workstation. They would often be the ones to help us translate. Be it questions from the judges or whomever we want to reply to, they would figure out how to say it in simple Mandarin. We would repeat after them.
What do you plan to do with your S$10,000 cash prize?
I haven’t really thought of how best to use the cash. Maybe as an investment for my future business, most probably.
You also have a home-based business.
The Closet Baker (@eclosetbaker on Instagram) is a small-home business where I do ad-hoc bake sales — when I have time on the weekend — selling artisanal French pastries, tarts, choux puffs. I’m currently replanning my menu and branding. as I’m currently studying and also doing a full-time apprenticeship in a hotel, so sales are not as regular. The Closet Baker used to be a safe space where I document my pastry journey in private, testing anything and everything that comes to mind without the fear of judgment from anyone i.e. baking in the closet. Nobody really knows that I bake.
Looking back, what desserts best represent the judges, Jeanette Aw, Fann Wong and Chef Janice Wong?
For Chef Janice, it would definitely be an English dessert. Because she struggled with Chinese the way I do. [Either that or] one of Janice’s own creation. Because she’s very complex and very attentive to every single detail, like even when she plates garnishes and flowers; it’s not just for the visuals but a purpose in terms of flavour profile. She’s actually quiet but we know she has a lot of substance, she’s very cool and very hipster.
Jeanette is like a macaron. They are very colourful, often tiny. She comes across as someone who is very small but very mighty. We all know what she has accomplished — like she’s directing, she has her own cake shop and she’s acting. Macaron itself is very complex too. It requires a lot of time and skill to get it right.
For Fann, there’s actually a chef that I admire, Chef Jeffrey Tan from Penang. He has this version of Strawberry Shortcake which is a very graceful, very elegant dessert. I think that is what Fann seems to be, in my opinion — very motherly, very warm.
Speaking of Fann, in the first episode, she asked you, “Are all guys who bake this handsome?” And in the semi-final ep, you asked her: “Who is more handsome — me or Christopher Lee?” Very cheeky.
The producers [wanted a] random question. I actually suggested a few and were all rejected. Then, this question came up and both sides were happy. I actually texted the producer later on to say that I would prefer not to have this question aired because it’s not entirely representative of me. It was a good laugh and a harmless joke.
The Crème de la Crème finale is now streaming on meWATCH.