A cook-off to remember

by | March 1, 2010

Three families bond together while making traditional recipes and competing in front of the camera.

BY: Eleanor Yap


You didn’t have to go far to get drama. In a kitchen filled with three generations cooking up a storm in the required 30 minutes, we got to see tears, singing (and some smoke and pressuring of the judges) and all around a good time from the three competitors of the recent Great Cook-Off.

In the team one corner, the family included Saedah Tahier, 61, with her daughter-in-law Nora Abu Hussein, 31, and one of Tahier’s grandchildren, Nur Safinatun Najah (all pictured above), as well as a host of family members in the audience as the cheerleading squad. They made rainbow rice with three different colourings and a Malay traditional recipe of rendang prawns, which was handed down from Tahier’s grandmother. However, she added in a new twist to the recipe with a healthier element of some grated coconut and carnation milk, instead of all coconut milk.

The family though had drama in the kitchen with Hussein breaking into tears after Tahier injected some advice. Tahier explained that her daughter-in-law forgot to dry the lettuce after she washed them and she had to tell her to do so. “If the rendang prawns were placed on the wet lettuce, it would not taste good,” she said. She shared that there was also another occasion where Hussein did not use a spoon to scoop the rendang sauce into a half, scooped-out tomato and the sauce ended up on the plate.

Putting aside the drama, the family however remained a crowd pleaser. Their presentation was spot-on as well as the taste of their food, which received a thumbs-up from the judges, which included well-known Peranakan chef Baba Jolly Wee, Chef Eric Neo from Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, and celebrity journalist, Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, who is also the co-founder of Hand Me Down/Great Cook-Off. The family, which called themselves “Cooking Angels”, were rewarded at the end with a green light to go on to the finals (date has yet to be confirmed), cooking head-to-head with the winning family of the previous day’s competition at Braddell Heights Community Centre. (All the six families that competed during the two days were provided by the People’s Association’s Family Life section.) The winning family at Braddell Heights was Jenny Chua, 54, along with her son, Leonard Chua, 22, and Jenny’s mother, Yeo Lang Hiang, 77 (shown below). The winning family stands a chance to bring home prizes, as well as having their recipe detailed in a cookbook with the other families, and their performances aired on the Hand Me Down website.

Said Tahier of the whole experience, “I will pass this recipe down to the family and I want to share it with them.” Added 14-year-old Najah, “I still am learning to cook and I know my grandmother will teach me.” The family often gets together during the weekends to cook together, furthering the bonding amongst the family members, and an important element of the Great Cook-Off, an initiative by Hand Me Down. The event, which took place in Jurong Green Community Centre, is a form of a reality show where teams of families comprising members from three generations including grandparent, parent and teenager can bond together around Singapore’s national pastime – food.


Fun competition & bonding

The other two families were strong competitors. They cooked up pork stewed in duck soya sauce and steamed rice, and a traditional Hakka dish – abacus beads made from yam. The second family was headed by 61-year-old Alice Lim, and her daughter-in-law, Alice Neo, 38, and Neo’s daughter, six-year-old Andrea Chua. The latter enjoyed peeling the shells off hard-boiled eggs, which the adults busied themselves making the main dish and rice. Their dish also took a healthy turn, mixing in loin pork with the pork belly “so not so fatty”.

Neo knew her own limitations and spoke of Lim’s “agaration” (from a Malay verb, which means to estimate) and said, “I haven’t mastered the [art] of agaration.” She also added, “One can cook and the other can’t cook so I end up doing the washing so we don’t quarrel.” Maybe another reason is the two Alices have the same Chinese horoscope – rat!

Neo, who is working, shared that she often times rushes home to cook for the family, who she lives with, and they all are happy together … or know not to step on any toes. “She is an easy mother-in-law to get along. If there are disagreements, you need to deal with them and move on,” said Neo.

The third family consisted of Fong Kit, 63; her sister, Lork Oi Kwan, 69; and Fong’s daughter, Ferene Seow, 30. Seow shared that there are benefits to being the only child. “Since young, I have always helped my mother in the kitchen.”


Finalists of the C3A awards

Hand Me Down/Great Cook-Off was one of six finalists of the Council for Third Age’s (C3A) inaugural intergenerational bonding awards. The other finalists included Centre for Seniors’ senior mentors @ work, WINGS’ The Bond workshop, workbook and exhibition, Dynaforce International’s Famili Club and National Library Board’s With My Grandpa and Grandma initiative. The six organisations have secured close to $1 million in funding from C3A. The Council’s Golden Opportunities! (Go!) Fund will defray more than two-thirds of the projects’ costs. The winning projects will be announced at the 4th International Consortium for Intergenerational Programmes Conference in April 2010.

Calling this her “National Service”, Toh explained the concept behind Hand Me Down and the Great Cook-Off. “I often see grandparents in the void deck, staring out into space or chit-chatting with other seniors while their grandchildren are usually glued to the computer in another room. You also have a hodge-podge of languages being spoken – the grandparent speaks dialect, the grandchild Mandarin and the parents may be speaking English and Singlish. Here lies the generational gap and a problem that the Government has – how to bond them.

“You think of Hand Me Down as in clothes. However, it is a bigger picture – it is about passing down traditions, values and heritage. I have boldly gone where no one has gone before. It is about inclusiveness, community and neighbourliness,” said Toh. She explained that six families competed during the two days and revealed the final showdown will be held at a showroom that is centrally-located.

Added guest-of honour of the event, Minister Lim Boon Heng from the Prime Minister’s Office, “It is a great idea to have an event like this. There are many great dishes [that exist] in families but these dishes are dying out as the younger generation don’t pick them up.” He however had a small piece of advice for the next Great Cook-Off, “There were all ladies today, three-generations worth. In the future, we should give bonus points if men get involved!”


** For more information on Hand Me Down or to see the video, go to www.handmedown.sg.

(Special thanks to JF Susbielle of Hand Me Down for the additional photos.)



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *