The opening collage of MasterChef Singapore Season 2 features the empty streets of Keong Saik Road and Chinatown in a poignant tribute to the ‘Circuit Breaker’ that started in March 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Home cooks began lighting up their kitchen like never before,” a voice narrates over clips of budding cooks plating their creations from the comfort of their home kitchens. It’s all very apropos for a reality show that unintentionally capitalises on a renewed frenzied interest in cooking as Singaporeans, faced with the daunting prospect of working from home, begin strapping on their aprons and getting down and dirty with the finicky but joyous aspect of culinary creation.
MasterChef Singapore S2 takes a sharp departure from the previous format of S1, I reckon, to take into account Safe Distancing Measures. While not quite as dramatic as the sambal-you-either-know-how-to-make-or-you-don’t challenge in episode one from the previous season, Season 2’s episode 1 elimination from 24 contestants to 12 feels more measured, deliberate, and, dare I say, academic.
Amidst the lush, green cover of Jewel’s Shiseido Forest Valley, contestants learned that this motley crew of 24 would be reduced by half through either a 4-people culinary showdown or a head-to-head (coincidentally, terms SethLui.com has used in some of our articles).
In a team of four, only two gets the white apron. In a head-to-head, only one gets to join the party of 12.
Contestants are grouped based on similar signature dishes or favourite ingredients, which, when compared to a one-dish challenge (such as sambal), feels a lot more achievable. Here, the challenge is not how to make one thing but rather a measure of how much better you can cook that one thing compared to a fellow competitor.
It’s raining paellas and MasterChef white aprons
All strains and echoes of exuberance and unbridled joy fade to a standstill as the first four contestants enter the main kitchen. This group is tasked with cooking a shellfish dish in forty minutes, which, in itself, is quite a tall (and briny) ask.
The problem is not in the cooking—it shouldn’t take that long if your goal is plump, beautifully cooked shellfish. The challenge is in making a conduit that will confidently hold all this seafood realness without stealing the spotlight from the primary produce.
In this group, we have Michelle, Aiman, Alderic, and Inch. Yes, Inch Chua, who, like many businesses in Singapore, has pivoted from Soul-Pop-Folk Princess to Thermomix Queen. But for someone who loves food, Inch struggles with the pronunciation of paella. It’s pah-EH-yah, sis, not pah-EHL-lah.
Wrong pronunciation aside, Inch’s Yuzu-Koshu Paella with prawns and mussels drew effusive flavour-hyphenate praise from Audra, who describes it as “big flavours, brilliant flavours, and flavour bomb”. She gets a white apron.
The other paella of the group comes from Michelle’s La Paella Marisco Tom Yum iteration, which, from its name alone, makes me froth at the mouth. She, too, gets a MasterChef white apron.
Aiman’s Lobster Thermidor with tomato rice is beautifully cooked according to Bjorn but served sans sauce due to forgetfulness. At the same time, Alderic’s Hokkien Mee Fried Rice is a confusing experiment that lacked seasoning. They both were sent packing home from the MasterChef Singapore kitchen.
The Dentist, the Engineer, and an Eclair
A MasterChef-worthy dessert head-to-head between Engineering student Derek and Dentist, Oon makes for some of the most exciting moments on Singapore television. It’s a segment filled with memorable moments such as Derek’s, “How good can Eclair be?”, and Bjorn’s, “Will the dentist extract the student from this competition?”. Adorable.
As bakers, Derek and Oon could not be more different. Both employ precision in their craft, but Derek takes the super-modern road of mathematical and scientific accuracy while Oon sticks to classic baking techniques—evident in his use of crumbed freeze-dried raspberry and choux pastry.
Derek’s Spiced Poached Apple with Honey Camembert Ice Cream, Lemon curd, and Toasted Walnuts won him a white apron along with Bjorn’s stamp of approval; “It’s not just well-executed, it’s well-conceptualized and impeccable.”
In a RuPaul Drag Race Lip Sync twist, Oon also gets a white apron for his Red Velvet Eclair, which Chef Damien could “eat every day, so stay a Dentist, Oon, or else I would go broke”. It’s all very feel-good, warm, and fuzzy.
It’s 2021, and MasterChef cooks are all caught up
If it’s not already apparent, judges Audra Morrice, Bjorn Shen, and Damian D’Silva makes a return for MasterChef Singapore Season 2, bringing with them not only diverse opinions and personalities but also a wealth of culinary expertise, honed more sharply over the past two years with the opening of Chef Damien’s Kin and Chef Bjorn’s boutique pizza parlour, Smalls.sg.
Audra’s joy and exuberance seem to be on overdrive this season, and honestly, I don’t mind it one bit. It’s a perfect balance to Damien’s stoic, fatherly instinct and Bjorn’s fun and quirky outlook dosed with liberal touches of “It’s Michelin-star quality!” realism.
The types of food created here are also very reflective of the culinary sensibilities of the year 2020. Season 1 of MasterChef Singapore 2018 focuses on fusion creations and the bold pairing of one distinct culture with another. This year, MasterChef Singapore Season 2 sees dishes that embrace full flavours and banks on a creative disposition that doesn’t rest solely on culture and heritage’s tired laurels.
That’s probably the reason why Leon’s Lemon Cheesecake With Matcha Meringue and Salted Pistachio got him a well-deserved white apron. In contrast, Derrick’s Pastry Prawn Baked Rice with its prawn noodle stock infused with Philadelphia Cheese got him sent packing home.
Should you watch it?
My thoughts from the inaugural episode of MasterChef Singapore Season 2 are, in Chef Bjorn’s words, “I like it very matcha”. Also, one of the contestants, Vasun, was previously invited to our podcast, Tapau Please, to talk at length about food and heritage. So, I have a vested interest, though that in no way, shape or form would cloud my judgement. *whispers in lies * Go Vasun!
MasterChef Singapore Season 2 prides itself on the tagline: ‘We’re back, better than ever’. So far, its claims have held up although, I won’t go as far as to proclaim the entire season to be great—at least not just yet.
But episode one is enough to get me curious, and like I always say to my HR Manager when hiring interns, curiosity is always a good first step.
Here’s to Season 2 of MasterChef Singapore, and here’s to scheduled Sunday nights of hardcore television viewing. Just me and my regular cup of Liho’s Chocolate Milk with 30% Stevia, sil vous plait.
Catch new episodes and exclusive behind-the-scenes of MasterChef Singapore Season 2 here.
*This article is brought to you in partnership with MasterChef Singapore.