Singapore’s culinary talent has spread across the globe with determination and innovation. During his recent return for the Michelin Guide 2022 gala, Matthew Leong shared with PEAK Gourmet & Travel how he thrives in his adopted country of Norway.
At Stavanger’s RE-NAA, the only restaurant in Norway with two Michelin stars, Matthew Leong, 27, is the right hand of acclaimed Norwegian chef and owner Sven Erik Renaa. He also helms RE-NAA’s more casual Matbaren Bistro.
Born and raised in Singapore, Leong moved to Norway to pursue his career at 21. Previously, he worked at RE-NAA for a year before moving to A’Laise, a Michelin plate restaurant in Oslo. Within three years, he was promoted to head chef.
“After completing my National Service, I wanted to sharpen my skills by working overseas. Upon sending over 100 resumes to restaurants around the world, Sven Erik Renaa was one of the three to respond. Without a second thought, I packed my bags and moved to Norway,” he recalls.
Strangers tell him how lucky he is to hold his position at such a young age. “What they don’t know is the amount of hard work and sacrifices I’ve made along the way. It’s not luck; it’s hard work and determination.”
According to the highly motivated chef, “During my early days, I would always be the first to arrive and the last to leave just so I could learn and absorb as much as possible from the senior chefs. It is no secret that this industry can be brutal, and I had to endure verbal abuse that sometimes took a physical turn. Yet I am thankful that I trained in such a harsh environment because it helped me develop a strong mentality.”
Leong was also the youngest to represent Singapore at the Bocuse d’Or Final 2021, a biennial world chef championship in France. For two and a half years, he worked full-time while training for the gruelling competition. “I worked as head chef at A L’aise from 9 am to midnight. During my days off, I would train with my team for an average of 10 hours per session.”
Four months have passed since Leong returned to RE-NAA, where he has been tasked with creating new dishes for RE-NAA and Matbaren Bistro. He says, “In Norway, restaurants use mainly ingredients sourced locally so I had to educate myself about the many types of natural produce for each season as they determine the dishes on the menu.”
How does he view Singapore’s culinary standing? “Despite being global and diverse, it reflects our culture strongly. Here you can taste everything from Michelin-starred delicacies and international cuisines to our favourite hawker food.”