After his culinary skills were put to the test, Felix* beat 40 other contestants to win a culinary competition held in Changi Prison Complex on Tuesday (July 19).
The 35-year-old’s dish even caught the attention of Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, who described his Hainanese steamed chicken rice as “delicious and flavourful”.
Organised in partnership with the Singapore Chefs’ Association, the annual Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition is one of the initiatives by Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) and Singapore Prison Service to help inmates with their rehabilitation and reintegration journey.
The competition asked inmates to redefine local hawker food that reminded them of their loved ones, who were later invited to taste the dishes they had prepared.
Speaking to AsiaOne on Thursday, Felix shared that he joined the competition so that his two-year-old daughter could “eat his food” for the first time.
“I really put all my heart into the dish. Seeing her finish the whole plate, it was so beautiful,” Felix said, pointing out that his daughter was only eight months old when he was put behind bars a year ago for drug trafficking.
It was a “stupid mistake” that he did not mind telling people about, the man admitted.
He added: “Going into prison, I thought I lost everything.”
“I’m lucky enough that I still have my wife who fully supports me, but I cannot keep letting her down.”
Besides his supportive wife and child, Felix said that he also joined the competition as a way to remember his late grandmother who had taught him how to cook steamed chicken rice 11 years ago.
“Everyone in my family knows how to cook it,” he said, adding that being the eldest grandchild, he sees it as his responsibility to continue the legacy of the family recipe.
In what was only his second time cooking the dish, Felix’s efforts earned the praise of the judges at the Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition.
“We are proud of what you have done. Overall, the taste of the dish was on point,” said Elvin Chew of the Singapore Chefs’ Association during the final cook-off held on June 29.
PHOTO: Yellow Ribbon Project
Besides the culinary competition, YRSG also offers interested inmates the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Certificate in Food Services (Culinary Arts) under the Singapore WSQ, to help them find jobs in the food and beverage industry after their release.
Inmates can also undergo industry-specific training at training academies in prisons through the Train-and-Place and Grow programmes, which will be launched in the food services sector this year.
Felix, who once owned an eatery in Malaysia specialising in Western dishes, now hopes to open a hawker stall after his release from prison in 2024.
Describing how he had “lost his way” after losing the business, Felix said: “I felt like [winning the competition] has given me power to carry out my plans and do something that I love.
“I must now [prepare myself] to face the world. After seeing my daughter finish my food, I don’t want to disappoint her anymore.”
But how would his grandmother have reacted if she had tried the steamed chicken rice dish that he prepared?
“She would have been very proud of me,” Felix said as he choked back his tears.
*Not his real name
This article was first published on AsiaOne and republished on theAsianparent with permission.