Tantalising Tastebuds, Transforming Lives

Four public service officers share recipes that they have perfected over time, and the tales of transformation behind them.
Recipes that were have perfected over time, and the tales of transformation behind them.

Almost 50 public officers answered a call to share their stories of what transformation means to them via food recipes. The public officers behind the dishes featured here got the chance to meet Chef Woo Wai Leong, the winner of MasterChef Asia, season 1. During the photography session, he tasted their dishes and shared his thoughts and tips. Chef Wai Leong was a lawyer-in-training, then a bartender, and now has a new F&B venture, Restaurant Ibid, which serves “Nanyang-style”, contemporary Chinese cuisine.

Soft Shell Chilli Crab

by Edwina Quek
Infocomm Media Development Authority

This iconic Singapore dish has been transformed for younger modern-day cooks, who may be less garang (“daring” in Malay) about killing and handling regular crabs from the wet market. “Frozen soft shell crabs can be purchased from retailers like Song Fish,” says Edwina. Once thawed, they can be easily cleaned and used. Edwina has also transformed the dish for lazy eaters who would rather not eat crab because of the effort it takes to excavate the meat. “You can pop these critters whole in your mouth – bib-free – without the hassle and mess,” she says. To round out the dish, Chef Wai Leong suggests having a side salad of fennel and pomelo, to add a pinch of sourness and cut the richness of the gravy. That’s inspired by his favourite Signature Chilli Pomelo Crab at Blue Lotus restaurant, which uses a blend of rempah (spices) and belachan (prawn paste). Experimenting with banana sauce, a sweet and spicy Filipino fruit ketchup, would also give the sauce a more “international vibe”, he says.

Soft Shell Chilli Crab


Crispy crab

5 soft shell crabs, cleaned
2 cups plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt (or Old Bay seasoning)
Oil for shallow frying (preferably peanut oil)

Chilli sauce

3 tbsp oil (preferably peanut oil)
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups water
1 ikan bilis stock cube
3 tbsp sambal belachan
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
3 tbsp sugar (adjust to taste)
Corn starch slurry (2 tbsp corn starch, dissolved in 2 tbsp water)
2 eggs, beaten


Fresh coriander sprigs


Crispy crab
  1. Mix plain flour, 1/2 tsp salt and white pepper in a dish.
  2. In a separate dish, beat eggs with 1/2 tsp salt.
  3. Pat crabs dry with paper towels.
  4. Coat crabs in flour mixture and shake off excess. Then dip crabs in egg mixture, and drip off excess. Coat crabs in flour mixture again.
  5. Heat oil in a wok for shallow frying (i.e. height of oil should be half the crab’s thickness).
  6. Shallow fry crabs until crispy and golden brown, about 1 - 1.5 min on each side, depending on thickness.
  7. Place crispy crabs onto paper towels to drain off excess oil. Set aside. Discard oil from the wok.
  1. Heat fresh oil in the wok and fry garlic until fragrant.
  2. Add sambal belachan and fry until aromas emerge.
  3. Add water and ikan bilis stock cube and bring to a boil. Dissolve the stock cube completely.
  4. Turn the heat down to low. Add soy sauce, tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce and sugar. Adjust these seasonings to balance the taste.
  5. Bring the sauce back up to a boil. Add corn starch slurry little by little while stirring quickly until desired texture of sauce is achieved.
  6. Turn off heat. Quickly drizzle in beaten egg in circles, from a height, and leave to stand for 2 min before stirring. The residual heat will cook the egg and give the chilli crab sauce its signature colour.
  7. Plate the crispy crabs. Pour sauce on top or serve on the side.
  8. Garnish dish with fresh coriander sprigs. Serve hot.
  1. Prepare soft shell crabs by snipping off the mouth and eyes, and removing the gills and apron.
  2. To give each crab a good shape, tease apart the legs to prevent them from clumping together, before shallow frying in oil.

Sticky Date Pudding in Warm Butterscotch Sauce

by Angela Khoo
Public Transport Council

Angela confidently warns that after tasting this dessert, your expectations of sticky date pudding “will never be the same again”. The deliciously comforting dish was certainly well received by Chef Wai Leong, who praised it for not being too sweet. Angela made this dessert based on a “friend-to-family” recipe – her sister got it more than 15 years ago from a friend in Melbourne, and later shared it with Angela. “The recipe transforms a humble bag of pitted dates ($3.85 per kg) into a divine and classy dessert,” says Angela. Medjool dates are the “crème de la crème” of dates, Chef Wai Leong says, but any plump or sweet date would do (he recommends buying from Mustafa Centre, which has a large range of them). His tip: turn some of the dates into a paste but leave some roughly chopped for more texture and bite. This dessert, best enjoyed warm and topped with vanilla ice cream, has been a favourite of Angela’s family since 2012.

Sticky Date Pudding in Warm Butterscotch Sauce
Chef’s tip: The vanilla ice cream is plated in a quenelle, an oval shape considered by many in F&B to be more elegant than a round scoop. Chef Wai Leong helped in the plating, using soft and pliable ice cream, and a regular tablespoon (preferably with an oval shape and a deep bowl).



170g dates (stoned and chopped)
1 tsp sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
300ml boiling water
60g of butter
170g caster sugar
2 eggs
170g self-raising flour (sifted)
1 tsp vanilla paste

Butterscotch Sauce

400g brown sugar
1 cup of thickened cream
250g butter
2 tsp vanilla paste


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Butter square or rectangle cake tin.
  3. Date mixture: Mix dates and baking soda with spoon in a bowl. Then pour 300ml boiling hot water over the dates. Leave to stand.
  4. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer. Then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Next, gently fold in self-raising flour.
  5. Stir in date mixture into the cream and butter mixture, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste.
  6. Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer (should come out clean). I usually check at 30-minutes and if it’s still not cooked, just leave it in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes.
  7. While the cake is baking, prepare the butterscotch sauce.
    How to make the butterscotch sauce:
    1. Melt butter in sauce pan
    2. Add brown sugar and whisk until completely melted
    3. Add cream and vanilla paste
    4. Bring to boil, then let simmer for 5 minutes
    5. Remove from heat
  8. Next, prick the pudding with a toothpick or skewer, then pour some of the butterscotch sauce over the warm pudding. Let it sit and soak in the butterscotch sauce.
  9. Cut pudding and serve with more butterscotch sauce, ice cream or fresh cream.

This dessert is best served warm.

Seared Salmon with Creamy Lemon Butter

by Nurul Shalwa Rahim
Boon Lay Garden Primary School, Ministry of Education

You could call this hearty dish, with its generous portions, a life-changing one. Nurul had never liked cooking, and found helping out in the kitchen a boring chore. But when she was five months pregnant and had to be on bed rest, the only TV channel she watched was the Food Network. As boredom kicked in, she decided to try making this dish – her first – for her family. It started her love for cooking and more. “Cooking has transformed me into a family person. My perspective on family values changed,” she says. Previously not close to her family, Nurul started to invite her cousins over for meals. Meal times that used to have everyone looking at their gadgets are now filled with laughter and conversations. “Cooking has become our favourite hobby, so we talk about the ingredients to use and where to get good and cheap ingredients.”

Seared Salmon with Creamy Lemon Butter
Chef’s tip: Chef Wai Leong enjoyed the fish for being moist. His only tip is to include and enjoy the salmon skin, which is “always a joy to eat”. When properly fried up in a thin layer of oil in a hot pan, the skin “crisps up like a dream”. That’s also where all the flavour and nutrition is, he says. (Similarly, when making mashed potato, add the potato skin into the water for more flavour.)


Seared salmon

Olive oil


Cooking cream


Pan-seared salmon
  1. Heat a non-stick pan.
  2. Remove the bones from the salmon.
  3. Rub the fish with olive oil.
  4. Season the fish with salt and pepper.
  5. Sear each side of the fish in the pan. Place the skin-on side of the salmon first. Do not overcook the fish.
  1. Heat a small pot. Sauté the garlic with a teaspoon of olive oil.
  2. Turn the heat down and melt the butter.
  3. Pour the cooking cream and lemon slowly.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Beat ½ of the egg.
  6. Turn the heat off the pot and pour in the beaten half egg. Stir the mixture gradually. Stir in the chopped parsley, and serve.

Mini Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake

by Leon Lim
Peirce Secondary School, Ministry of Education

This cheesecake and its evolving recipe have seen Leon through the highs and lows of his twenties, and “transformed me into the person I am today”, he writes. Leon first tried out the original cheesecake recipe in 2009, at 21 years old, when a friend invited him to a baking session. Both new to baking, they had many mishaps, but still managed to come up with “a half-decent product” for a birthday celebration. The newfound confidence sparked Leon’s journey as a home baker. Four years later, after going through some difficult times, he gave himself a personal challenge: to bake 300 mini cheesecakes for a self-initiated charity function. Having to do it overnight proved that he had tenacity within him, and further deepened his passion for baking. The charity event raised more than $3,000 for the Singapore Children’s Society. Now, Leon runs a Baking Interest Group at Clementi Community Centre as a volunteer. “It has allowed me to touch the lives of people in my community through a passion that I love.”

Mini Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake
Chef’s tip: The mini cheesecakes are dusted with blueberry powder. The recipe has been modified over several years to fit into bite-sized portions, which make the cheesecakes easier to transport and consume.

Makes 30 1.5-inch cheesecakes


200g digestive biscuits, crushed
100g butter, melted
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
250g mascarpone cheese
150g sugar, sifted
3 tbsp lemon zest, finely chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice, strained
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 cup of blueberries, washed

31 1.5-inch cupcake cases (one for pressing down the base)


  1. Melt butter over stove. Crush digestive biscuits into fine grains and stir in the butter. The mixture would resemble wet sand.
  2. Prepare cupcake cases and spoon 8g of base mixture into the cupcake case. Press down with another cupcake case or with your fingers. Leave prepared cupcake cases with cheesecake base to set in the refrigerator.
  3. Preheat oven to 140°C and boil 1 kettle of water.
  4. Beat cream cheese and mascarpone cheese together until well combined.
  5. Mix in sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt, and let all the ingredients combine into a smooth mixture. Taste mixture and adjust the flavour according to your taste.
  6. Once mixture is ready, beat in eggs one at a time. Do not overbeat the batter.
  7. Fill batter into prepared cupcake cases till ¾ full and place 1 large blueberry into the center of the cupcake. Place the filled cupcake cases into a tray. Once all cupcake cases are filled, tap tray on tabletop to release excess air bubbles.
  8. Prepare oven. Place one empty tray on the bottom-most rack of oven and pour boiling water into the tray until its half full. This is to ensure that the cheesecakes do not dry out during the baking process. Bake cheesecakes in oven for 25 – 30mins.
  9. Once baked through, remove from oven and let cheesecakes cool for 30 mins before leaving in the refrigerator to chill. (Reference: Freezer - at least 45 mins, Fridge – at least 4 hours).
  10. Top cheesecakes with any toppings of choice, if preferred.
    Aug 3, 2018
    Siti Maziah Masramli
    John Heng
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