He said: “In Europe, they take two years off just to train for this competition. With manpower crunch in Singapore, restaurants are less likely to release one person to focus on that, especially if the candidate is likely to be at least of sous chef calibre. You need to work yet also be dedicated to training at the same time; you’ve to find chefs who are familiar enough with Bocuse d’Or to train you, and you have to raise a few hundred thousand dollars to get to the competition.”

William Wai’s bronze placement in 1989 was considered extraordinary given the odds. Wai, who was working at the iconic Compass Rose restaurant at Westin Stamford Hotel then, was the Republic’s first candidate to the competition. He had joined mainly with the mindset of gaining exposure, and credited the result to the fact that he had a European trainer and that the blend of eastern and western elements in his dishes made his creations stand out from the rest.

Wai, currently the healthcare corporate chef at SATS Ltd, recalled: “it was really tough then as I could only train during my off day and had only a few months to prepare for the finals. Fortunately, I had the support and coaching of chefs Otto Weibel and Joe Yap from Westin Hotel. It would have been great if we had more sponsors for equipment, financial support and I had more time to train for the competition. I was also uncertain then if I would be able to compete with the European chefs and chef-owners who came from established restaurants.

Bocuse d’Or was started by French chef Paul Bocuse in 1987 to broaden the public’s appreciation of the finesse, dedication and hard work that goes behind creating fine cuisine. The rigorous competition is held every two years and includes national and regional rounds in Europe, America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific. Twenty-four countries are eventually selected for the two-day finals where each team comprising the chef and a commis (assistant chef) will create two themed dishes within five hours and 30 minutes.


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