First MasterChef Asia winner talks agony and ecstasy of reality TV
Singaporean Woo Wai-leong withstood the heat in the kitchen to win the inaugural MasterChef Asia title, but warns prospective entrants of the pressure cooker-like environment of performing on the popular TV programme
MasterChef Asia is calling for contestants for its second season and potential applicants are advised to learn a thing or two from Woo Wai-leong, the first winner of the competitive cooking reality show.
Recently in Hong Kong to promote the programme, which was aired on Now TV, the Singaporean says the show was so stressful he would never do another one, but the experience is so valuable it will last a lifetime.
“As long as you’re a fan of cooking and want to see how you perform under pressure, just do it. Don’t do it for the prize. Don’t do it for the fame. Do it because you want to challenge yourself. You want to see whether you can survive under that environment,” says Woo.
“Before this show, I found myself watching MasterChef at home and thought ‘I can do better than this. How could he forget that? How could he screw that up?’ But at the competition, I was eating my words. It’s this hard. It’s this tough.”
At an event at Flame in Tsim Sha Tsui, the lawyer turned MasterChef took his time to recreate the short ribs with brown-butter purée and mirin-glazed leeks dish that he made during the second challenge at the finale.
But Woo says aspiring contestants should be prepared to work under a lot of pressure because during the actual competition nothing ever goes according to plan. He recalls in the seventh episode, each of the contestants was to cook for 150 people in about 2½ hours.
“I was cooking falafels – I had enough and just before the guests walked through, I turned and knocked the entire bowl on the floor. The entire service I was just doing catch-up. I was swearing like mad,” says Woo.
And unlike common misconceptions of a reality show, there’s no need to act because there’s simply no time or energy for you to worry about that. Woo adds: “Things will happen, and as long as the cameras catch it, you’ve a good show. It sounds really corny but just be yourself and it’s entertaining in itself.”
MasterChef Asia happened during the 27-year-old’s final year of law training when A+E Networks’ Lifetime channel started recruiting contestants for the show, which is based on the very popular British original. He took the time off to compete in the show, which involved 15 contestants from around Asia filming in an undisclosed location for six weeks in Leong’s home city, before he went back to his training and received the law qualification.
Woo says he is chilling out now, working part time as a bartender at a place called Horse’s Mouth and writing a cookbook as part of the prize for MasterChef Asia, which also includes a US$50,000 cash prize and a one-year paid internship at one of Carlton Hotel Singapore’s restaurants.
“To me the prizes are the bonus. The biggest reward is knowing that I’m half decent at what I think I love to do. The next reward is most definitely the fact that I came up with 14 other friends. Those are some relationships that will never go away easy. You are bonded by that one experience,” says Woo.
“They love to cook. I love to cook. We meet up all the time to eat and talk about food. We will talk about food non-stop and other people will get bored but we’re still OK. Those 14 other people made the entire journey worth it.
“The idea of MasterChef Asia is based very much on MasterChef Australia. We’re more supportive. It’s less about me against you. It’s more about my personal journey throughout the competition.
“Because more often than not, the person that lets you down the most is going to be yourself. You’re going to hate yourself if you mess up a dish. And it’s about whether you can bounce back and keep on fighting and getting past rounds after rounds. I think that’s more exciting because it’s a lot more personal.”