It's billed as the Oscar ceremony for Singaporean gastronomy: the World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence on Saturday had some of the surprises of the Hollywood original. It even had a few fashion faux pas.
For a lunch event where many ladies were wearing elegant cocktail dresses, one winner stood out as she went on stage in a skin-tight, black micro-dress, setting tongues wagging - and a few pulses racing. Mind you, guests did have to wait until the sixth award to finally see a prize recipient on stage: several winners were unable to attend the event - or perhaps they didn't rate it worth of the effort.
In fairness, some of the awards went to distant regional participants: for example, the school of hotel and tourism management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University picked up the prize for best culinary institution of the year. But even two local winners didn't show up, to the visible embarrassment of organisers.
The winners in some categories had been widely tipped: Iggy's, a small restaurant that serves modern European cuisine, won the award for new restaurant of the year. The French restaurant Les Amis picked up awards for both rising chef of the year (Gunther Hubrechsen) and sommelier of the year (Randy See). Still, eyebrows were occasionally raised - such as when the best-restaurant winner, Saint Julien, did not pick up the award for chef of the year. That went to Emmanuel Stroobant of Saint Pierre, a media darling, and it may have had as much to do with his good looks as with his fine cuisine.
Now in its sixth year, the awards are still being tinkered with. Under current rules, a winner for three consecutive years cannot be nominated the next year: the argument is that you need to make a place for a younger generation. This rule does cast a shadow over the awards' validity: after all the best chef, regardless of how many awards he has won in the past, should surely still win. Organisers say they are willing to reconsider the rules.
Still, the Awards of Excellence show that the local cuisine has come a long way from the hawker food Singapore is known for. As one minister commented: 'It's no longer wonton mian, but wonton noodles with Wagyu beef or laksa with lobster.'
Singapore's national pastime - eating - is a serious and lucrative business: the food and beverage sector grew by about 5 per cent last year, with restaurant sales up 8 per cent. The government says there will be a need for another 2,000 chefs and about 6,000 service staff in the next three years alone. Whether all these chefs will cook up a storm and the service will be up to par remains to be seen. But, in the meantime, local gourmets already have much to choose from.