Leon Lim may have lost the battle on Sunday’s (Apr 25) MasterChef Singapore finale to engineering student Derek Cheong, but he won the war — the war against himself.
“The biggest lesson I learnt from being MasterChef is to believe in myself and my skills,” the 32-year-old private tutor tells 8days. “Initially, I was really unsure if I had what it takes to be in the competition, self-doubt and insecurities sometimes got the better of me, and that led me to make really silly decisions.”
But as the show progressed, he grew strength to strength. “I started to believe that I had the necessary skillset to fight for my spot,” the hawker food advocate says. “This growth in self-confidence is something that I really treasure.”
The judges noticed his evolution, too. An enthused Chef Damian D’Silva noted during the show: “If you look at Leon, he’s brimming with confidence! That’s the Leon I want to see. Because when Leon is confident, his food is spot on!”
In the three-course meal showdown, Leon triumphed in the appetitiser round but lost the entrée and dessert challenges. In the end, out of 90 points, Leon scored 77 while Derek chalked up 78. Real close.
Did Leon find it tough to sit through the finale again? The parts just before the winner’s reveal were the hardest to watch, he says. “But I am really happy for Derek. He is my junior from NTU and I feel that I have this special connection with him.”
He continues, “I’m so excited and happy to see someone at the peak of his youth, pursuing his passion. This is something I stand for as an educator and I am really honoured to have witnessed such a historic moment on Singapore television.”
Here, Leon shares with us some moments from the final cook-out which the audience never got to see and what inspired him to make that killer Rojak Roll that had the judges going gaga over it.
8 DAYS: How shocked were you when Chef Bjorn jokingly gave your Rojak Roll a six, which turned out to be a nine?
LEON LIM: I was a little confused at first as the score did not seem to tally with his comments. Because it was the first dish in the cook-off, I thought I would be in for a tough battle ahead. I already started strategising my next two dishes.
That Rojak Roll was a hit with the judges.
I am honoured to have these wonderful comments and I look forward to hearing from them [about having my rojak on their menus].
What inspired you to make it?
It came in a dream. I was really craving for rojak and [so on the day of the competition], I decide to make do a rojak dish.
Last year, Genevieve Lee tried to lighten the mood by psyching Zander Ng during the cook-off. Did similar moments happen between you and Derek?
Actually, I think that Derek and I have a really amicable relationship. There was one scene that did not make it to air where Derek actually shared an ingredient that I was looking for. Also, when I had some issues with my pasta dough, Derek offered me some encouragement. I also checked in on Derek from time to time to see how he was doing on time. So it was really not a cutthroat battle but rather a celebration of our respective cuisines.
What are your favourite moments on the show?
One favourite moment is definitely Chef Mandy Pan’s Black Forest Dessert replication challenge: I made an almost flawless dish, despite having no experience making it. That was indeed a confidence booster. Another moment: When Chef LG Han said he would put my otah dish on his menu. Before that challenge, I was feeling pretty dejected because I wasn’t performing up to par; Chef Han’s comments really lifted my spirits. Last but not least, I really loved the Invention Test relay challenge, together with Melissa and Ganesh. It was really fate that brought us together; I felt that we worked as a team during the challenge.
Who else would you love to have faced off in the finale?
Melissa. She is a well-rounded, creative cook. It would have been interesting to see what she has in store.
What dish/cooking technique did you pick up from the show?
The Faux Boudin Noir cling wrap technique from Chef Ryan Clift was something new that I picked up. And also Chef Ivan Brehm’s technique of splashing hot oil to ‘crisp up’ fish scales is an interesting technique.
What advice would you give people hoping to compete next season?
It is really important to take the first step and sign up, and not let fear or self-doubts hold you back. Each setback teaches you a lesson; so in all your kitchen conquests, remember to keep a journal of your trials, tribulations and triumphs. These experiences would definitely help you navigate the problems you’ll face in the MasterChef kitchen.
Your family used to sell coffee. How did that background influence your decision to pursue the culinary arts?
My family’s coffee business ceased when I was in pre-school, so I suppose I wasn’t part of their succession plan. However, what I do remember were the times we spent at the coffee shop and I really enjoy how food helped people bond. Hence, I really wanted my food to be something that could bring people together, and that inspires me to continue cooking.
On the show, you mentioned you were bullied as a kid and that affected your confidence later in life. What would you say to those bullies now?
I would say “Thank you” to these bullies because I think whatever they did help shape my life and how I approach my life. So, I think that I wouldn’t be here, if not for those experiences. That being said, bullying is still a huge no-no in my book. To anyone who is a victim of bullying, remember to seek help and reach out to someone that you trust.
What’s next for you?
I am currently collaborating with my friend on a Halal dining café concept called Creatr; we are in the midst of testing the menu. I also plan to infuse culinary arts into my Chinese Language enrichment programmes, to create meaningful and exciting learning experiences for our local students. This is done in collaboration with my tuition centre, Minds@Work by Jeremy. I also intend to continue pursuing some music and hosting projects should an opportunity arise.
Catch the complete MasterChef Singapore Season 2 on meWATCH.