We chatted with Mr Luke Elijah Lim who is the winner of “The Ultimate Green Chef 2023” about winning the competition and his views on food sustainability.

Congratulations on winning the title of “The Ultimate Green Chef”! How did you land a spot in the finals?

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I chanced upon a glimpse of the digital advertisement poster calling for entries on the LED media flipboard panel located at the lift lobby of my apartment block on the evening before I departed for a work trip to Hong Kong. Upon my return from overseas, I immediately documented and uploaded the requested photographs and a one-minute video of my spin on an environmentally sustainable dish and managed to send over my application through on the final day of submission. I baked an organic pandan cake made from okara flour (a by-product of tofu and soy production) and animal free dairy milk from microflora, filled the middle with a generous serving of upcycled orange peel marmalade, and then topped the cake with a layer of gula melaka infused defatted coconut kernels (a by-product of processing virgin coconut oil), and decorated it with some edible blue butterflypea flowers. A few days after submitting my entry, the organisers called to inform me that my entry was selected.

Describe the process and experience of the competition from your perspective.

Even though I had rehearsed in my head some possibilities of what I might make, I had to toss those ideas out as some of the main food ingredients that I had in mind such as pumpkin and cucumber as they were not available for use from the open pantry. I came up with two brand new dish concepts on the spot based around the mystery box items of barramundi, organic lettuce and vegan balls.

I also dropped my initial plan to make use of mango as the discarded fruit peel and inedible seed would have added a hefty load to the food waste bin that was being weighed and constitutes 25% of the judging criteria. It was particularly challenging to concentrate and focus on cooking with the production crew pointing different types of cameras at me as they filmed the process. I also found it rather pressurising to speak to the three judges, a distinguished minister of parliament and the organisers as they watched me cook and asked me various questions. I was doing my utmost to be fully grounded and not cut off my fingers with the kitchen knife as I simultaneously multi-tasked with my hands, mouth, mind and intuition. The 1.5 hours of competition cooking time passed by very rapidly and I was in a sort of an adrenaline-fuelled daze for most of that time period.

What was your winning element or strategy?

It was the cohesive teamwork, espirit de corps and synergy with my mom as my sous chef. She assisted me with some of the tasks such as washing the vegetables and cleaning up our station that allowed me to bring my A game and channel my energies into concocting up the winning dishes. Her creative funnel cakes were also the crowd pleaser that remained crispy throughout even though it was the first component of our dish to be completed. Judges, fellow contestants and organizers alike enjoyed nibbling away at it. I actually have not had the time or opportunity to taste it for myself as I was too focused on completing the other tasks at hand, and the funnel cakes were all completely eaten up before I could have a go at them, so they must have been very delicious and appetising.

What are some of your main takeaways from this experience?

Joining the competition was an eye-opener and I was being exposed to new things and fresh ways of thinking. One of the judges, Chef Sowmiya Venkatasen, who is a finalist in MasterChef Singapore Season 1, said to me during the competition that when it comes to cooking and presenting a dish, “less is more”. She told me that just because it is a cooking competition does not mean that I have to try so hard. She added that sometimes it can be harder to learn to pull back, and not to overload too many elements onto the plate.

I took heed of her advice and followed all of her tips, recommendations, and pointers such as coating the barramundi fillet with some corn starch before pan frying in order to give it a crispy finish. I also took away the decorative edible flowers that I had intended to use when told by the judges that everything that I presented onto the plate will be tasted and eaten. The flexibility to pivot, as well as a willingness to be open to critique, constructive feedback, suggestions, and new ideas is paramount to endless lifelong learning and self-development.

What does food sustainability mean to you?

Supporting and buying fresh regional produce from your local farmers and growers. Consuming less meat, dairy and animal products. Choosing to purchase alternative protein sources such as plant proteins and lab grown cultured meat products at the supermarkets. Only making use of what you need, thereby reducing food wastage. Learning to use and cook with various upcycled and recycled food ingredients such as the “Well Spent” ingredients that are being researched, developed and sold by At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and their industry partners.

Do you intend to join MasterChef Singapore?

Over the years, many people have told me that I should sign up to compete in that competition as they felt that I have what it takes. The standard of that show is extremely high and the quality of the contestants are top notch. I have given joining MasterChef some thought and serious consideration before. In any case, I’ve already missed this year’s application deadline, so it will have to be next season at the earliest. Which also accords me extra time to gain even more experience, practice new recipes and further hone my culinary skills in order to better prepare myself.

My personal belief is that winning the title is redundant if you already know that you are a good cook, and are confident in your own abilities. As such, no external validation is required. Regardless, having the media exposure and the title of MasterChef Singapore under my belt would be a nice bonus asset, and it can help those who have never met me before to trust in my abilities to cook up a storm, and to whip up a tasty dish.

What are you plans for the future? Will you eventually open up a restaurant?

The F&B industry is notoriously competitive and is a saturated arena. Hiring and retaining good competent staff is also a mighty challenge. I have had friends from Taipei and Australia approach me in the past to open up a restaurant concept together with them, but the notion did not resonate nor bode well with me, and so I politely declined their propositions. In the foreseeable future, I am contemplating the possibility of perhaps opening up an environmentally sustainable take-out gelateria concept that sells colourful fruit popsicles, as well as Japanese-inspired vegan coconut based ice-cream flavours such as matcha and black sesame. Ice-cream makes people of all ages happy, and I love to see the smiles on their satisfied faces. I have been shopping around and keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable retail location. Watch this space!

Thank you West Coast GRC and MP Ms Rachel Ong and the organising team!


Images: Luke Elijah

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