KF Seetoh is a Hypocrite

I’ve actually been meaning to write (rant?) about this for awhile, but was finally prompted by an article in today’s New York Times.  In the article, Julia Moskin outlines a stingray crawl around New York City, for which she relies on the help of an expert.  Of course, whenever anyone needs an expert on Singaporean food, they call KF Seetoh.  For those who don’t watch Top Chef, Seetoh was recently featured on the season finale of Top Chef DC, which took place in Singapore. (He was also on th Singaporean episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and has been consulted for other NYT articles that relate to Singaporean cuisine.)

Seetoh’s reputation as an expert on Singaporean food is not unfounded.  He started a guidebook to hawker centres, called Makansutra, which I found incredibly helpful for its description of each dish.  His company has expanded since then and now includes two food courts designed to look like hawker centres – one in Singapore and one in Manila.  While I think these recreations of hawker centres have similarities to EPCOT’s versions of other countries (commercialized, sterilized, and a tad-bit touristy), I support the idea of the preservation of hawker centres and hawker fare. To that end, in coordination with the Singapore Food Festival in 2005, Seetoh designated as “Hawker Food Legends,” 12 of the “best and most popular hawkers who have been dutifully dishing out their cult signature flavours for decades.”  These awards appeared to be annual, although they were renamed “Street Food Masters” and  sometimes included  newer hawkers.  However, as far as I know, no such awards were announced in 2010.  (The Singapore Food Festival, when the awards are generally announced, is held in July.)

Thus, Seetoh is generally credited as being not only an expert on Singaporean hawker food, but also as the leading figure in a crusade to save it.  According to the NYT, “One of Mr. Seetoh’s primary goals is to preserve such dishes, which he sees as a product of diverse, resourceful and often desperate communities. The hawker food will be lost, he fears, as the population becomes affluent and aspiring cooks can afford Western education — culinary or otherwise. Asian cooks are opening French and Italian restaurants in the cities now, he said, and the traditional hawkers are aging. ‘They are old, and their sons are old, and their grandsons go to Harvard,’ he said.”

I agree that hawker food may be a dying tradition – and have the research to prove it.  Consequently, I respect the work KF Seetoh has done to promote hawker food.  However, one day in Singapore I discovered that my hawker-food hero had let me down.  And here is why:

KF Seetoh Preserving Local Food?

HOW CAN YOU CLAIM TO WANT TO PRESERVE LOCAL HAWKER DISHES AND THEN PROMOTE A FAST-FOOD CHAIN – AND AN AMERICAN ONE AT THAT??

<end rant.>

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13 Comments

Filed under food, Singapore

13 responses to “KF Seetoh is a Hypocrite

  1. You really got him with that one…I missed that ad! good catch

  2. Clayton

    That’s standard Singaporean mentality. Contradictions are not really considered weird.

  3. tony t

    K F Seetoh is a very genuine character. I met him this month in Singapore during the filming of a cooking show I was involved with. His passion for Singapore and hawker food is genuine. The ad for KFC is not something that will damage the hawker food culture/industry. KFC is KFC and hawker food is hawker food, both exist and neither will disappear on the account of the other. Publishing an article such as the one you have is just grandstanding and mudslinging on your part. Doing an ad for KFC does not make Seetoh a hypocrite at all, he has done more for preserving Singapore’s hawker food culture than anyone else and there is no reason why he should not take advantage of commercial opportunities such as this so try growing up and spit out the sour grapes already.

    • gowiththeebb

      You are entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to mine. I don’t doubt that his passion for Singapore and hawker food is genuine and I respect the work he has done to promote and preserve it. That being said, I find his decision to advertise for a multinational fast food chain quite odd. (I would be more supportive if he took other commercial opportunities – cookware, for example.) I think hawker food is still in danger of disappearing. This is due to a number of factors – the popularity of fast food chains and air-conditioned food courts, as well as the retirement of older hawkers and the fact that their children are taking other jobs. Certainly these factors still exist whether or not KF Seetoh appears in fast food ads, but I nevertheless find the contrast in messages a bit bizarre.

  4. His name is ‘KFSEE’ TOH lah..wad do u expect hahahahaha

  5. Chairman Meow

    as per article, and by Seetoh himself, the threats are from ‘Asian cooks opening up Italian restaurants’. If Seetoh were to appear in commercials for an Italian establishment instead, then no doubt that is hypocritical, Big Time. Like Tony said, KFC is KFC and hawker food is hawker food. If one cannot understand this, then they do not understand the whole culture entirely, region and food-wise (and I say this not as a criticism).

  6. ctbravo12

    trying to save one thing does not mean you have to have the destruction of another.

  7. Damian Wang

    food is food people, what’s the bloody difference eh?!!? the food we eat turns to a pile of foul smelling SHIT after 30 minutes or so ( depending on the bowels performance ) so i say, just let the chips fall where they may and keep eating…BOOYAH!!.

  8. Loz

    Its not a zero-sum game where endorsing KFC necessarily results in detriment to Singapore’s Hawker food industry. Perhaps you could bolster the credibility of your argument by presenting some sources supporting your allegation.

    • Ch

      You are right. It’s called integrity (guys, check ur doublestandards) and any argument around it should be redundant already.. Useful post, thanks!

  9. Ch

    You are right. It’s called integrity (guys, check ur doublestandards) and any argument around it should be redundant already.. Useful post, thanks!

  10. bryan

    I believe the writer of did this did it as a joke. and the way it was set up was all quite funny. because anyone with a god damn brain will know that promoting KFC does not mean he is killing hawker food.

    Then i read the comments and facepalmed. the funny thing is the writer is so egotistical he is defending his own “opinion” when it was really just a joke in the first place. very sad indeed

    KFseetoh keep doing what you do. much respect.

    also, tony nailed it.

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