Singaporean chef doesn’t hate critics, he loves them

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Singaporean chef doesn’t hate critics, he loves them

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Sam Leong

Sam Leong, 46, a highly recognized culinary figure from Singapore, said he is thankful for all those customers who complained about his dishes because they are the ones who have made him the chef he is today.

Leong was visiting Seoul to take part in a Singapore Airlines gala dinner event. The Singaporean chef is a member of the airline’s international culinary panel launched in 1998.

He said that when he responded sincerely to appease dissatisfied customers, they came back later and in many cases became friends. Today they are huge fans, he said.

Leong said communicating with customers and being sincere were the secrets to success in the restaurant business.

Leong is the director of kitchens and a corporate chef for the Tung Lok Group, Singapore’s largest restaurant business, and has received numerous accolades. His achievements include Best Ethnic-Asian Chef of the Year by the World Gourmet Summit in 2001, 2002 and 2004, as well as Executive Chef of the Year and Chef of the Year in 2005.

The Singaporean chef said when he was young he wanted to become a policeman, but he didn’t because of the exam he had to take.

Instead, he reluctantly started working for his father, who ran a restaurant. Leong said he spent two years killing time before he finally got his act together when his father asked how he planned on starting his own family with such a negative attitude.

His father’s strong words and advice helped him start building his culinary career at age 17.

He said that even though it wasn’t his intention to follow in his father’s footsteps, being a chef was in his blood. Other than the five to six hours of sleep he got, Leong spent the rest of the day stuck in front of the gas burner in the kitchen.

His talent started to blossom when he began creating dishes that were different from traditional Chinese food. He said he was inspired to come up with his signature dishes by traveling the world with his Thai wife, who is also a chef.

One of his most popular dishes is wasabi prawn.

He said there are four groups of people that have helped him become successful: his family, the people who taught him, his critics and the media.

He said he decided two years ago to start giving back to those who helped him succeed.

He left the Tung Lok Group and started to spend more time with his family and friends. To train future chefs, he started the Forest Cooking School. Forest is also the name of his wife.

He said teaching gives him a different kind of joy than cooking, adding that it is more pleasing to hear thanks from his students for helping them create a unique dish than to receive praise about his own cooking.

Leong said his favorite Korean foods are samgyetang, or boiled chicken soup with ginseng, and kimchi.

By Lee Ga-young [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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