Chef Wong has served Singapore’s presidents for decades, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Chef Wong has served Singapore’s presidents for decades

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Cooking for royalty, world leaders and all eight of Singapore's presidents?

It is all in a day's work for Mr Wong Shang Hoon, who has been making meals for the Republic's leaders for as long as it has been independent.

Indeed, since the time of Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, Mr Wong - or Uncle Hoon, as he is affectionately called - has been a chef at the Istana.

In fact, his family lived in the staff quarters as his father worked for Government House - as the Istana was known during the colonial era.

Like gardeners Hamid Sudi and Poh Joo Nam, and chef Wong Shang Hoon, Mr Wong belongs to a group of staff who have worked for decades at the Istana, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

As part of its celebrations, President Halimah Yacob launched a roving exhibition titled Our Istana: A Living Museum last month.

The exhibition, which shares highlights from the Istana's rich history with Singaporeans, will run until Dec 1 at different libraries islandwide. It is at the Central Public Library for the month of July.

Mr Wong, 78, recalls being taught how to cook Malay dishes by Mr Yusof's wife, Puan Noor Aishah, including beef rendang and ayam kunyit (turmeric chicken).

A typical day starts at about 8am for Mr Wong. The day's schedule and menus would have been provided ahead of time, complete with any dietary restrictions or preferences.

Mr Wong then visits different local markets and supermarkets to purchase fresh produce.

Apart from preparing working lunches and light meals for meetings, Mr Wong and the other three chefs are sometimes also asked to support larger banquets, though an external caterer is usually engaged.

There is also the occasional evening dinner party or barbecue.

Despite the years, Mr Wong still recognises how remarkable an opportunity it has been to serve successive leaders as well as foreign dignitaries such as Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Mr Wong remembers the different preferences of his guests.

"You need experience. Salty, sweet - each boss has different tastes," he said.

However, the boss he served the longest and was closest to was Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Lee's mother taught Mr Wong how to make Peranakan dishes such as Nonya chap chye (braised mixed vegetables), but the founding prime minister's favourite cuisine was Japanese, the chef recalled.

"I love my job as a chef here. If not, I wouldn't be in this position for this long," said Mr Wong.