Even though culinary student Genevieve Lee lost her MasterChef Singapore bout to IT manager Zander Ng last Sunday (Oct 22), she didn’t go home empty handed.
“As cliché as it sounds, being part of the MasterChef family is good enough a prize,” the bubbly Culinary Institute of America student, 20, tells 8 DAYS.
That, and the chance to work alongside her fellow Top 4 finalists — Zander, Sharon Gonzago, Shamsydar Ani — at Marco Pierre White’s The English House in Ep 7’s restaurant takeover challenge.
“The first thing I said, when everything was done and everybody was dog-tired and lying on the sofa, was, ‘I’m ready for Round 2,'” Lee recalls.
“That was the moment I knew I was made for this. Even though I’ve been working for hours in the kitchen, sweating like crazy, but that adrenaline rush was so addictive — and I liked it. Wow, I loved it. I can actually do this. I was born for this.”
On top of that, she earned raves for her fish and chips from the 56-year-old British culinary legend. “One person really impressed me, that was Gen,” White commented. “You achieved everything that was required of you without assistance. Well done.”
“To get that kind of compliment from him, I just felt so good,” says Lee. “It was such a big motivation for me to really go all out in the end because Marco said I can cook well. Oh my God, and he did that on TV. Wow!”
Now that MasterChef Singapore is over, Lee is back in school to focus on her culinary degree. She’s also ready to share with friends her adventures on TV Land. “I’m happy that I don't have to give short and vague answers now.”
8 DAYS: What was your first reaction when you were told to create a five-course Asian-inspired banquet?
GENEVIEVE LEE: When I heard about the brief, I was a bit disappointed because I am very good at European and Western cuisines. When it comes to Chinese food, it’s very simple home-cook meals. So when they said, it’s Asian banquet, I was like, Huh? I didn’t want to do a wedding dinner-style banquet. It was a bit tough on me. [My approach] is to look at the dishes that I am good at, which is all my European dishes and how do I infused Chinese elements into them using the different spices that I learnt from my dad.
What was your reaction to the judges’ comments about your dishes?
I definitely agree that my vegetable dish can be balanced better. I do feel that the Sichuan peppercorns in the yogurt sauce was a little overwhelming. Looking back I think I could have spent a little more time on the vegetable dish as I could have made it a little more spectacular!
You did something unexpected during the show: You tried to psych Zander out by telling him that he cooked his steak a tad early. What prompted you to do that?
(Laughs) I just thought a cook off with only two left was getting a little lonely and wanted to lighten up the mood with some good old teasing.
Who else would you love to have faced in the finale?
The opponent I’d love to face but at the same time terrified of is Aaron [Wong]. Because he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s really masterful [in Asian cuisines]. When I heard we are making an Asian banquet, I was like, if Aaron were here, he would have taken the trophy and I can go back home already.
What if it were Sharon Gonzago? You two have a mother-daughter relationship on the show. We imagine that would be tough…
When you are in a competition, you just kind of switch off the fact you are friends even. But, of course, after the challenge, you are like, I love you. During the cook-off, no matter who it is, they are still a competitor and you have to treat them like a competitor. I’d say everyone is a force to be reckoned with.
What lessons did you learn about yourself?
I thrive in complicated things. So the more challenging or weird something gets, the more excited I become. And sometimes I can get over my head. You know the Chinese idiom, drawing a snake and adding feet to it? That happened to my mango sticky rice [in Ep 4's dessert challenge]. I guess I learnt to consolidate my ideas to something more cohesive and sensible, and to be more focused on my flavours instead of trying to be fancy and over-stretch myself.
Has appearing on MasterChef Singapore affected your family’s soya sauce chicken rice restaurant, Lee Fun Nam Kee?
I work weekends at my parents’ restaurant when I have the time and I’m usually [serving food], so everybody can see my face. I have a lot — a lot — of people coming up to me, “Can I take a picture with you? I came here just for you. I’m so happy I got you at this timing.” There’s a lot of people who, when I’m not there, asking my dad, “Where is Gen?” I feel happy but I am able to contribute to my father’s business because I can’t be physically there and I feel bad about it, especially now when he’s facing manpower crunch. It kinda makes me feel better that people are patronising the restaurant because of MasterChef.
Are you a celebrity at school?
At school, everyone is a chef. I felt that sometimes it’s a bit hard to make genuine friends because either they are too intimidated by me and are too shy to talk to me, or they don’t really want to talk to me [because they think I am elitist]. I don’t know why [they would think that]. But I’m just [like any other] person, a student who’s come here to learn.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Catch the first season of MasterChef Singapore on Toggle catch-up.
Photos: MasterChef Singapore