Cooking up a storm at seaFrom cooking noob to chief chef: Meet ME2 Eugene Yeo who's been satisfying the appetites of frigate crews for 15 years!
//Story by Teo Jing Ting // Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of ME2 Yeo
He took two years to master the art of cooking chicken rice.
In particular, it was the skill of making tender, poached chicken from frozen chicken – an especially crucial feat as frozen poultry was all he could work with while out at sea.
"My crewmates were all surprised that my poached chicken tasted exactly like the ones that they could get from hawker stalls, even though I was using frozen chicken," Military Expert (ME) 2 Eugene Yeo said with a laugh.
"That was the best moment of my life!"
The 32-year-old obviously takes pride in his work.
After all, the title of chief chef comes with heavy responsibilities – he has to fill the stomachs and lift the morale of more than 70 sailors on the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) frigate RSS Intrepid every single day.
Finding his calling
While ME2 Yeo is now able to cook a wide array of culinary dishes, this was absolutely not the case 15 years ago.
Then a 17-year-old student fresh from completing his N-levels, he had a choice to either further his studies at an Institute of Technical Education or join the workforce.
He picked the latter after receiving a brochure about a career in the navy. The job – naval chef – caught his eye. With the blessings of his parents, he signed up with the RSN and has never looked back.
"Before this, I'd never really cooked before! But I always had an interest in cooking so I decided to join as a naval chef," said ME2 Yeo, who was sent to the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC) for three months to pick up basic culinary skills.
Upon graduation, he was assigned to RSS Intrepid as a junior chef (or chef 2 as they now call it), where he was fortunate to come under the tutelage of his then-chief chef ME2 Ng Say Chwee.
ME2 Ng showed him the ropes and, with his guidance, ME2 Yeo was promoted to leading chef (or chef 1 as the title is known now) in three years.
In 2015, he became chief chef of RSS Intrepid.
Planning a week's menu
As chief chef, one of his biggest responsibilities is planning the menu. His team and he often brainstorm what to cook for the week depending on the perishables, the sea state and the morale of the crew.
"We try not to repeat the menu within two months, so we have to think hard and plan ahead," explained ME2 Yeo.
"Sometimes we also have to change up our menu on the spot – like if we planned to cook soup but the sea state is bad, we will change the soup out for another dish in order to avoid spillage."
One of his most memorable experiences to date was when RSS Intrepid hosted a cocktail for their China counterparts at the Qingdao port of call during a Midshipmen Sea Training Deployment in 2018.
As ME2 Yeo wanted to showcase a cross-culture of food between the two navies, he used Tsingtao beer, a Qingdao specialty, to roast a pork dish. The cuisine was a hit, especially among the Chinese navy personnel.
"They were surprised we were able to use beer to cook the pork and they enjoyed the dish a lot."
Receipe for success
To please the crew's palates, ME2 Yeo and his team often come up with new recipes and dishes.
During their free time, they often watch cooking videos on YouTube and experiment with dishes in the galley. Occasionally, they will also patronise famous hawker stalls to get inspiration.
For example, ME2 Yeo revealed that he and his chefs visited a Michelin-starred hawker at Maxwell road to find out the secret to making good soy sauce chicken.
"We found out they braised their chicken with soya beans, so we tried it out, added in some Chinese herbs and really liked the flavour!"
A galley's work
During deployments, ME2 Yeo's day starts at 4.30am. Together with his two assistant chefs, he prepares breakfast which is served promptly at 5.30am.
A typical breakfast ranges from porridge and macaroni soup to economical bee hoon to sandwiches with tuna or egg mayo.
Preparations for lunch begin around 7.45am and meals are ready by 11.30am. There's little time to waste as ME2 Yeo has to start his ingredients prep for dinner at 2pm, begin cooking at 4.30pm and serve dinner at 5.30pm.
The team then works on their last meal prep for the day at 7pm before whipping up a night snack for the crew at 8.30pm.
The night snack or rather, supper, can comprise something as heavy and locally flavoured as prata, dried meesiam or laksa. On other days, they serve up something more fanciful like pancakes or cheesecakes.
Sense of fulfilment
As with all the other sailors on the ship, ME2 Yeo has multiple roles. Apart from being chief chef, he is part of the medical team.
If activated, he will assess and treat the casualty before moving them to the medical centre on the ship, where the latter will be attended to by the medical officer and medic.
Ask what he likes about his job and ME2 Yeo breaks into a wide smile.
"I really like cooking and when I see my crew enjoying the food I cook, it gives me a sense of fulfilment.
"I also like trying out new recipes because there is no stop point in cooking. You can only improve and get better, especially when there are so many people on board ship as my food tasters! This is one of the best jobs I can ask for."
ME2 Yeo's recipe for Hokkien Mee (feeds 4 pax)
|Prawns – 200g||Pork collar – 150g|
|Pork belly – 100g||Squid – 100g|
|Eggs – 3||Spring onion – 40g|
|Yellow noodles – 270g||
White bee hoon – 150g
- Stir-fry prawn head, garlic and ginger. Place ingredients into a pot, add water, cinnamon stick and star anise. Boil the stock over low fire for 40 minutes.
- Stir-fry eggs. Remove from pan and put aside for later.
- Stir-fry garlic. Throw in pork belly, followed by spring onion and pork collar. Fry them till golden brown before adding the scrambled eggs in. Season them with oyster sauce, fish sauce, light soya sauce and white pepper.
- Pour the stock in and let it boil. Season accordingly for flavour.
- Add in the white bee hoon, followed by yellow noodles. Cook for about 10 minutes before adding prawns.
- Stir-fry the noodles for 5 more minutes before letting it simmer for another 5 minutes to absorb the stock.
- Remove from pot and cover it about 10 minutes before serving.