What makes a winner? Some acknowledge their innate qualities. Others would commend their hard work and perseverance. For Chen Khai Loong, he credits his win at the Young Chef Olympiad (YCO) in India to the support gained from his community.
Childhood Desire Comes True but Community Carried Him Through
Chen’s childhood dream of becoming a chef came true when he joined the culinary programme. Inspired by his seniors who gained much experience through the competitions, his new dream was to enter a cooking competition. His persistence in reminding his peers and lecturers finally paid off when Chef Farouk Othman, Senior Lecturer in Taylor’s University, presented him the opportunity to represent Taylor’s and Malaysia in the YCO. An easy pick, Chef Farouk felt that all he needed was to build his spirit and confidence to win.
Like any of us, he was excited and nervous but when self-doubt kicked in, he wondered if he should bother rising to the challenge. Like Batman giving his signal to Gotham’s police force, his friends quickly brought his self-confidence up reminding him that “it’s his dream” and “to go for it.” That was the beginning of a journey he’d never forget.
Life-Long Lessons by a Positive and Supportive Community
During his two months of rigorous training, he was never alone. Recognising his natural talent waiting to be unleashed, his two mentors, Chef Farouk and his colleague, Chef Sharizan Azali, were like watchful guardians pushing him to do his best. Not taking it easy on him, both chefs believed that Chen’s openness and willingness allowed him to perform his best in all stages.
More than just a title and a gold trophy, the competition also gave him valuable life lessons. Both mentors never forced their authority or spoon-fed him with information which allowed him to learn, grow from his mistakes, and be mentally equipped.
Through Smooth and Rough Waters, We’ll Be There
Though supportive, Chen soon realised the difficulties of impressing both chefs. Feeling discouraged, he often wondered “Why should I train so much only to lose? Why am I working so hard while everyone else is on break? What am I doing?” Repeating his senior’s advice like a mantra, “winners adapt, losers complain”, he persevered through and this did not end in vain when his mentors finally said, “the dish is good to go!”
From one obstacle to the next, the competition itself tested his physical and mental strength. The enemy this time was... time! Between having to cook and fly to different cities on the same day, they had to also prepare for the next segment of the competition.
“One night, we got back to the hotel around 1am! That night, Chef Sharizan and I stayed in his room and we managed to prepare everything for the competition the next day. We really pulled through the night together.” Never alone at any point, his senior, Lai Jia Yi, would constantly check up on him during the competition by sending him a text after each round. “I would normally tell him how nervous I was but he would encourage me by telling not to think so much and go all out!”
Chen believes that without the support of his family and friends, he wouldn’t have been able to go the distance. Through the difficult moments, he thought about the people that he would make proud if he had won and, evidently, that brought him the gold. Coupled with his commitment and with the constant support from his friends and family, Chen’s potential to rise to the top is limitless.