In a recent Facebook post, the Norwegian Embassy in Singapore congratulated chef Mathew Leong on his victory in the Singapore selection of the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary competition. Why would they do that?
Well, Leong is a lot “more Norwegian” than the average Singaporean chef!
In an exclusive interview with Mothership SG, Leong discusses his Norwegian introduction to the culinary arts and his time spent working at Re-naa, a restaurant in Stavanger. Arriving with just S$500 in his bank account, Leong barely scraped by while living in Norway, but he was determined:
“Going overseas to work is really about focus. My main purpose to come to Norway is to move my ass and work as hard as possible,” he says.
After just one month, Leong was promoted. After just one year, he was invited to work at Norwegian-owned FISK (now closed) in Singapore. Leong accepted the position, but he would return to Norway in 2018 to work at À L’aise, a Michelin Plate restaurant in Oslo. There, he climbed the ranks from chef de parti to head chef, becoming the protégé of the restaurant’s owner, Ulrik Jepsen.
“Being a head chef is one thing,” Leong explains, “but being the right hand man of the owner is a different thing. I gained the trust of Ulrik, and we do the menus together, we play a part in the restaurant together.”
In 2019, Leong told Jepsen he wanted to enter the Bocuse d’Or. Jepsen was skeptical, at first, but he eventually agreed to support Leong, whom he calls “one of the most pertinacious and persistent chefs he has ever met,” in the competition.
Training began right away. Leong spent hours in his personal kitchen, which he redesigned to replicate the Bocuse d’Or kitchen, making the same dish over and over again. To simulate the noise and chaos of the competition, he would even play loud music or the sounds of a cheering crowd. All this on top of regular working hours at À L’aise.
Evidently, Leong’s hard work has paid off. Having won the Singapore selection of the Bocuse d’Or, Leong will head to France this September to compete against 23 other international chefs in the competition’s finals. At just 26 years old, he is the youngest Singaporean ever to qualify.
But he won’t stop there.
“I’ve already achieved my dream of being the youngest to represent Singapore at Bocuse d’Or,” Leong says. “Next one is to be the youngest ever to get three Michelin Stars.”
The Bocuse d’Or finals, part of the Sirha Lyon exhibit, begin on 26 September. Find out more here.