Above: Chef Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore, and Chef Peter Gordon of The Providores and Kopapa in London
A couple of Fridays ago I was invited by the Singapore Tourism Board to attend a lunch cheffed by Janice Wong who runs 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore (previous writeups on her work here and here) and Peter Gordon who heads up The Providores and Kopapa in London.
They were the opening act for the Singapore Takeout global tour, where a shipping container refitted as a mobile show kitchen visits 9 cities over the span of a year, and chefs from Singapore (sometimes teaming up with an in-city chef) showcase dishes inspired by Singapore flavours. The lunch today was going to be mostly the same dishes being served to the public all weekend, but plated on actual plates rather than disposable Takeout takeout bowls. (See what I did there?)
I am generally sceptical about fusion food, taking quite seriously the advice that a Thai restauranteur once gave me, that "fusion food is confusion food". But sceptical is different from complete religious disbelief. Sometimes unexpected combinations produce delightful, cuisine-changing reactions and developments. So why deny oneself those opportunities? Food-mad folks, of all people, must live by the code that the proof is in the pudding, surely.
So here I was, on this rainy Friday lunctime, waiting for the chef demonstration to begin. Snacking on Janice's chilli chocolate coral mousse, apparently inspired by the old Mayan practice of combining cacao, honey and chili as medicine. Very pleasant indeed. I'm not a fan of super airy mousses. This one had sufficient structure and heft without being heavy. With of course that tinge of heat from the chilli.
For the demonstration, Janice and her sous chef Cathy demystify the process of "printing" onto edible parchments. If I remember right, it involves
- Printing words or a photo of choice with edible ink onto a transfer sheet (remember those iron-on t-shirt designs of the 80s?)
- Adding pectin to a flavoured puree of choice and then spreading it very thinly onto a silicone tray
- Putting on the transfer sheets, so that the heat from the puree will transfer the ink onto the sheet
- Letting things cool, scraping the sheets off the tray, then gingerly peeling off the transfer sheet
It's a cool party trick, and could be a fun wedding favour if you're into that kind of thing. Not really my style, even though it's probably the most painless way of eating one's words.
And now to lunch. Both chefs were going to do 3 courses each.
As a pre-appetiser, we get a taste of Janice's laksa mac & cheese. That is, your usual 4 cheese sauce, spiked with Prima laksa paste. My eyebrows jumped with scepticism, but once in the mouth, this totally worked. It was like a mini Singaporean David Chang moment.
Appetiser: Yu-sheng (raw fish) salad reimagined with tuna tartare, mandarin orange emulsion, and foraged herbs and flowers. Very light and fresh. For me it would never replace the traditional yu-sheng dish at Chinese New Year, an altogether more rustic, messy affair. But quite a fun off-season experiment.
Main: Laksa infused dumplings with noodles. Not very visible here, but the dumplings looked like the mini cat-ear variety. Very comforting on a rainy day. I could go for a big bowl of this.
Dessert: "Popcorn" with caramel, yuzu parfait and passionfruit sorbet. Popcorn with caramel totally works, obviously. Janice had said this was very much inspired by snacks in her youth, and I know exactly the one she means, having ingested way too much of it growing up myself. The light mellow acidity of the yuzu did a great job of balancing out the sweetness in the dish, but the too-tart passionfruit sorbet pushed it too gruffly over the edge. Has potential if it could be brought back from the brink. Why apologise for the fundamental taste of popcorn?
Petit fours: "Toffee pudding" made with gula melaka (palm sugar), squidged onto a dollop of kaya (coconut and egg jam) custard. The combination of sweet and sweet was too much for me personally. I'm trying to persuade my mate Goz who runs the London-based Singapore supperclub Plusixfive to do a different twist on this -- keeping the kaya custard, but subbing in a buttery, slightly bitter coffee cake. The tastes of a old school Singapore breakfast in one bite, essentially. We'll see how that goes, eh.
And now to Peter Gordon's showcase for the day.
Appetiser: A reimagined oyster omelette. This omelette was stuffed with crab meat, and garnished with mango sauce, deep fried shallots and coriander on top, with the oyster naked on the side. New Zealander Peter Gordon is said to have spent a respectable amount of time travelling around South East Asia, learning about its flavours through research and osmosis. This dish made me think, "yeah, this guy gets it". Possibly my favourite dish of the whole event, though involving crab and oyster gives it a very unfair advantage!
Main: Roasted pork belly cubes on steamed white rice with a pineapple sauce. Interesting in theory. But the pork belly was a little too dry, and there wasn't enough gravy on the rice to make up for that dry mouthful. Pleasant, but didn't get me in the gut.
Dessert: Almond milk with flaked almonds, strawberries and I lost track of what else. Peter Gordon's take on bo-bo cha-cha, so I heard. Not a dance from the 50s, but rather a Singapore dessert of diced sweet potato and yams and chewy tapioca flour shapes cooked in coconut milk. It was in a pretty glass, but this dish struck me as a prime example of fusion food being confusion food. There was just way too much going on. Plus (admittedly unfair) the very smell of almond milk or cream makes me retch, so I had to push this over to Goz right after the first mouthful.
Overall, the lunch was the fun result of a series of professional culinary experiments. Some dishes sparked lightbulbs that I reckon a few food bloggers including myself will want to go develop further in our own kitchens. Others were pretty "meh" and were best left in the slushpile. But that fun of finding out is the point, I reckon.
If you happen to be in Paris next week, Singapore Takeout hits the streets of gay Paree 30 June - 2 July at the Hippodrome Auteuil. The event will be cheffed by Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre and Chef Sven Chartier from Restaurant Saturne. Stay updated via the Singapore Eats Facebook page and register here for the Paris tasting sessions!