On Jan. 15, 2020, President Halimah Yacob broke the news that long-time Istana chef, Wong Shang Hoon, would be retiring in a week.
The 78-year-old Wong, affectionately known as Uncle Hoon, has served as Istana chef for a mind-boggling 57 years.
Wong's father had been a staff member of the Istana, then known as the Government House, during the colonial period.
Wong himself was born there in 1940.
In 1963, when Wong began serving meals in the Istana, it was none other than President Yusof Ishak that encouraged him to take up cooking.
Wong told the Public Service Division (PSD) how that conversation propelled him to a chef's life.
“Encik Yusof was very kind to me,” he recalls. “He told me that I could learn more as a cook and encouraged me to take up cooking.”
He has never looked back since.
Over the years, Wong has not only cooked for Singapore leaders, but foreign dignitaries as well.
He told PSD about the time he had prepared popiah for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, and it was so good that he ended up on the receiving end of an impromptu "Happy Birthday" song from the Princess and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"What happened next is one of the gracious highlights of Mr Wong’s career. “Her Royal Highness told me that my popiah was delicious and said ‘thank you’,” he says. Coincidentally, that day, 19 January 2013, was Mr Wong’s 73rd birthday. “When she heard about it, she also wished me ‘Happy Birthday’. I was very honoured,” recalls Mr Wong."
His vast repertoire of cooking styles is formidable -- as he knows how to cook everything from Japanese shabu shabu to the iconic Gula Melaka pudding -- and his ability is underscored by true dedication and joy in what he does.
A colleague of Wong told PSD that “if an ingredient is necessary, he won’t compromise. He’ll never say, ‘Never mind’. He puts his heart into the food he cook".
Wong received the National Day Long Service Award in 1993 and was the first Istana household staff to receive a National Day Award.Here are some words of wisdom from the man himself.
“Wherever we work, the important thing is that we like the job,” he says. “We must have a sense of pride in what we do.”
Image from Lee Hsien Loong's FB and Halimah Yacob's FB