Inmates cook up a feast in Singapore rehab project

Wed May 27, 2009 4:35am EDT
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By Candida Ng

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Salmon tartare, chicken roulade and creme brulee are by no means standard prison fare, but these were dishes whipped up by some inmates in Singapore as part of a project aimed at easing them back into society.

About 10,000 ex-offenders are released annually from prisons and drug rehabilitation centers in largely conservative Singapore. Many find it difficult to find a job and face social pressures that hinder their attempts to re-integrate.

This week, teams involving 12 finalists from several jails traded their prison garb for chefs' jackets and pitted their culinary skills against one another, creating a three-course menu with a spring theme during a cookout.

The contest, at the main Changi Prison, followed three weeks of culinary training for about 40 inmates by a local hospitality school, which joined forces with the Yellow Ribbon rehabilitation project two years ago.

"It is not just to showcase the inmates' skills and talents -- it's a platform for them to get some employable vocational skills," said Singapore Prison Service's Deputy Superintendent Ng Gee Tiong. Most of the male and female inmates who took part in the contest are jailed on theft and drug offences.

Both judges and contestants said one of the greatest challenges was the limited number of ingredients. But these constraints gave the prisoners the opportunity to think out of the box and on their feet, something chefs often have to do.

"There is a lot of talent inside here," observed Chef Catan Tan, a teacher at hospitality school Shatec who mentored the groups.

Ingenious adaptations included a heart-shaped mold constructed from aluminum foil and icing sugar made from sugar ground in a mixing bowl.   Continued...

<p>An inmate, wearing a barcoded identification bracelet, prepares a dish during a cooking competition at a kitchen inside Changi Prison in Singapore May 26, 2009. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash</p>