Above: Queens of the Desserts -- Singapore's 2am Dessert Bar's chef owner Janice Wong (left), and Copenhagen's NOMA's pastry chef Rosio Sanchez
Singapore's annual World Gourmet Summit coincided with Babs's and my recent family-visit trip. The fortnight heralds a dizzying array of international chefs, flown in to hook up with local chefs to present a sparkling suite of special menu dinners, demonstrations and masterclasses.
I usually find most of the events ruinously expensive, and so usually just pass over the schedule page wistfully. But this time I couldn't resist checking out the 2am Dessert Bar - NOMA dessert mashup, led by 2 very accomplished 20something women.
2am Dessert Bar, nestled in Singapore's very chi chi Holland Village, is owned and run by a mere slip of a girl, 27-year-old Janice Wong. But she's slight like, y'know, a stick of dynamite is slight. In local lingo we'd call her a "chilli padi", a small but scalp-tingly hot chilli.
The story goes, Janice was studying economics at university in Singapore, went on an exchange programme in Melbourne, Australia, and was so taken by the fresh produce there that she decided that food was to be her life. She finished her degree, blazed through the pastry course at Cordon Bleu in Paris, and then hustled her way into a series of stints including Les Amis in Singapore, Per Se and WD-50 in New York and Alinea in Chicago. In 2007 she set up 2am, an avant garde dessert-only restaurant with lots of wine pairings. The stick of dynamite proves to be quite a keg. Since then Janice has become quite the appointed ambassador for modern Singapore cuisine, launched a lab in partnership with Republic Polytechnic to create and study the chemical structures of dessert concoctions, and is in the process of publishing and launching a book due out this summer.
It was at WD-50 that Janice and Rosio crossed paths (Chicago-born Ms Sanchez is also a Cordon Bleu pastry alum, but from their Chicago campus). In fact, it was Rosio -- the sous pastry chef at WD-50 at the time -- that took Janice in. The 2 obviously got on famously, and stayed in touch. The very personable Rosio is currently the pastry chef at NOMA, and from what I can tell of her dishes and what I've heard and "seen" of NOMA from my lucky friends' accounts, she "got" what the place was about, quickly and quite entirely.
For the week of 3 May, the mashup menu offered 4 desserts by 2am and 4 by NOMA, priced at S$60 and S$98 respectively if you went for the degustation option. Thanks to the very sporting company of SL, P Diddy, Tones, Team Criddle-Cock (long story), we could indeed go for the whole menu together and not feel too pauperous after.
It might be worth stating at this point that ultimately, I haven't decided whether I am an absolute fangirl of these desserts yet. The odds aren't great. My penchant for desserts has dwindled over the years. And the more places I eat, the more I realise that I actually like what some may call "peasant" food, much more than overwrought fancy food. But, I daresay I am quite the fangirl of the creators of these desserts. Because boy do I love women with cahones.
So here we go. One dessert from each house was served at the same time.
NOMA: "Bitters dessert, Winter Version". Whey discs, bitters syrup, milk crumbs and sorrel.
See what I mean about cahones? Rosio's opening salvo looked like a white hockey puck in an algae moat. But maaaan, the combination of dairy and herbs and salty milk crumbs underneath was exquisite. I think this one was SL's favourite.
2am: "Shades of Purple". Purple potato, cassis parfait, lavender and marshmallow.
In contrast, Janice went for an explosion of colour. What looks like a string of pink ice-cream pearls had an array of textures and temperatures. By the way, if this actually was a necklace or a bracelet, I think I wouldn't mind wearing it.
NOMA: "Hay parfait and strawberries". Chamomile broth, lemon balm, oregano and bronze fennel.
NOMA is well known for dishes that recreate the way the ingredients were found in nature. The story behind this dessert is that when Rosio went foraging for wild strawberries, she often found chamomile growing alongside. In a more industrial setting, she found that strawberries are often packed in hay to keep them unbruised and moist.
Cute, and once again elegant. The wild strawberries were quite the treat, densely packed with flavour compared to their watery industrially grown frankensteiny cousins. These ones evoked childhood memories of picking strawberries on the cool slopes of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. I wonder if they still grow there...
2am: "Basil White Chocolate". Textures of passionfruit.
A whopping 7 textures going on here, including passion fruit leather, coconut ice-cream and a tiny cluster of sea grapes! This one was Bab's favourite -- he especially liked the passionfruit leather. For me personally, there were just too many elements going on at the same time. But I was really taken by the sea grapes (I think I ate an unfair share... sorry!). Sea grapes are apparently a kind of seaweed, grapey in shape and tobiko (flying fish egg) -esque in taste. The Japanese people of Okinawa call it green caviar. Delightful. Where oh where do I find some more please?!
NOMA: "Milk and Grains". Milk ice-cream, and biodynamic grains.
This was my favourite of the evening because it was cute and inventive and subtly sweet. Also it just boggled my mind that so much white on a white plate still somehow worked. When you "hack" into the ice-cream log, out seeps a dark golden syrup (birch, I think?). Very evocative of the experience of the roving NOMA team tapping birch water to make homebrewed beers and syrups.
2am: "Cheese Avalanche". With biscotti, marinated figs and cantaloupe.
Again, a heady mix of sweet and savoury, fruity and dairy tastes, and crunchy and creamy textures. P Diddy liked this one so much he ordered a whole other one to eat by himself!
NOMA: "Huldreost brown cheese and beet". Brown cheese custard, beet granite and licorice.
I don't have strong memories of the cheese now, I really like the subtle natural sweetness from the beetroot. A good reminder that I've been meaning to experiment with making beetroot sorbet this summer, after discovering roasted and raw beetroot of all sorts of colours with a vengeance all this past winter.
2am: "Chocolate H20". A flourless, creamless, butterless chocolate cake, paired with caramel truffle and yuzu sorbet.
A dessert first dreamt up for those watching their figures, apparently. Surprisingly delicious for a "diet" dessert. And very refreshing despite my sceptism about the chocolate and citrusy yuzu pairing.
All in all it was a fun delightful evening trading stories and updates and reactions to the desserts with friends. Thanks so much to Janice, Rosio and the 2am army. In some instances I don't get your style, but I sure as heck get your passion and dedication. Keep on keeping on.
2am Dessert Bar
21a Lorong Liput
+65 6291 9727