Twenty-Ten

Crispy sweetbread with creamy morel mushrooms in home-made puff pastry, The French Kitchen.

I’ve been reading many ‘09 food recaps and roundups on the blogs lately. But I’d like to look forward to 2010. So here are some things I’d like to see after two years* of eating around Singapore.

(*Which you’ll get to eventually see, there are 57 albums of almost all food related stuff in my facebook profile. This blog is really backlogged.)

The Importance of Ingredients

With the Integrated Resorts opening in Singapore, some heavyweight chefs are coming to set up shop in Singapore. From Marina Bay Sands: Guy Savoy, Santi Santamaria, Tetsuya Wakuda, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck. From Resorts World Sentosa: Joël Robuchon (!), Kunio Tokuoka, Scott Webster and Susur Lee.

There seems to be a link between gambling and haute cuisine. Well it’s probably more a correlation with money and the sort of tastes that these high rollers have, look at Vegas and Macau/Hong Kong, not so much Genting Highlands though (but Genting Singapore yes!) And with the casinos, the Michelin guide is usually not too far behind. There has been speculation that the Michelin Guide might be coming to Singapore. I recently heard from a few chefs that Michelin is indeed coming, probably next year or the year after.

My concern though, is whether chefs can get the sort of ingredients needed for Michelin caliber cuisine. A few months ago I had a serious craving for sweetbreads. I couldn’t find them on menus anywhere, so I asked a chef to order some for me. He did but said that they weren’t good and did not serve them. I caught wind that The French Kitchen was serving them and made a beeline for it. They prepared the sweetbreads well, but sadly it was frozen and the texture was a little off. Apparently only frozen and not fresh sweetbreads are allowed. The reason being that the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has very strict control on what sort of food can be imported into Singapore. Unfortunately for gastronomes, that list is pretty long. I understand and appreciate the AVA’s role and intention to ensure our food safety. But sometimes I think that they might be a little overprotective.

I’m curious as to see if the AVA policy will change once the Integrated Resorts open. And if it does what was the problem with these ingredients before? Ok never mind that, I just hope that the AVA will allow more types of food in.

I wonder if there is any sort of advisory panel of chefs that the AVA consults with in regard to what to bring in.

Carpaccio of peachwood smoked duck breast with Granny Smith apple puree, sorbet of red beets and yellow frissee salad. The best rendition of that ingredient. One of my favorite dishes of 2008. Sage.

I hope to see more purveyors in 2010. Most restaurants, at least in a western context, get their ingredients from Classic Fine Foods, Euraco and Indoguna. What happens is that everyone serves more or less the same stuff. I remember sometime in 2008 where it seemed that every chef had a culinary boner (thanks Andrew from Top Chef) for smoked duck breast. It was on menus everywhere!

Who Dares Wins

Hopefully with the AVA allowing more types of food in and more purveyors bringing them in, there would be variety on menus. I’m tired of seeing the same scallop, salmon, tenderloin hog up menu space. Instead of the normal poultry, I would love to see squab, pigeon and grouse. I would love to see offal: Sweetbreads, heart, marrow, tripe, tongue, tail and intestines. I would love to see more of the pig than just the loin, what about the shoulder, cheeks and ears? Use the whole head! They have so much flavor and different textures.

Give me exciting fish! I’m so sick of John Dory and sea bass. Give me mackerel and sardines. Gurnard. There are so many species of fish in the ocean, why am I seeing the same few all the time. I love nothing more than to taste something new. Take my fish V-card please.

It pisses me off when I see a boring menu, because it tells me that the chef is playing it safe, playing the numbers. “But people want salmon,” is the usual refrain. I understand that restaurants are businesses too and they have to sell. So sell your customers something different. Introduce and excite them to the wonderful diverse bounty of our planet. I know as chefs that you want to do that. Dare to do it.

On the other side of the table, as gastronomes, we should ask and encourage our chefs to serve the food we love but that they don’t usually sell. We have a part to play in getting them out of their comfort zones. Request that they feature a particular ingredient and make a meal out of it. I’ve done it a couple of times with chefs I trust and it has always been fun and delicious. But we also have a part in taking our fellow dining companions out of their comfort zones. Encourage them to order something else beside that filet mignon, how about the ox-tongue.

Fat! Give Me Fat! Always Fat! 

Recently I was in Penang to try its fabled street food. I had a spectacular wonton mee, the best I’ve tried. There was a depth of flavor that just eclipsed anything I had in Singapore. Our guide, a renowned food writer said that that was how food tasted in Singapore perhaps 30 years ago. The secret ingredient: Lard and lots of it.

Superb wanton mee, somewhere at the junction of Lebuh Carnarvon and Lebuh Chulia, Penang.

So what happened? Why doesn’t our hawker food taste as good? My take: People got health conscious. Well there are other factors. But this one stands out most; you can see it displayed, all those signs that proclaim “No Lard!” “Less Oil!” Whenever I see a sign like that at a stall, like a person with gonorrhea, I stay away.

Hawkers started catering to the heath conscious trend and that’s a shame really.

Well because fat = flavor.

If I wanted something healthy I’d get a salad. That plate of char kway teow is going to be unhealthy no matter how you cook it, I’d prefer that if I were killing myself, that I’d be killing me deliciously.

I wish that hawkers would cook the way they used to back in the day. There’s just no way like the old school way because it’s the right way.

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10 responses to “Twenty-Ten

  1. Too true! I only ever remember having sweetbreads once or twice in Singapore, and they’ve never been particularly good here. Now I know why!

  2. John: Bummed that I can’t get fresh pigeon/squab as well. Wondering why fish (like for sashimi) freeze up so well yet game and offal don’t.

  3. Can’t agree more.

  4. I’m glad. The post started out very much as a rant and I was afraid I was just shooting my mouth off.

  5. Rant away, it’s your blog. I agree that the food that is prepared in restaurants here tend to fall within the safe zone of the mundane.

    I agree with you on the fishes. It’s a section of the menu I almost never look at anymore. If not for the fact that I like beef, I probably won’t bother with the red meats too

  6. Hi Lionel

    And thank you for sharing the côte de boeuf during that dinner at Absinthe.

  7. hey david, didn’t know where to post this so here. Where did you buy your sole from? Was it a Dover sole or lemon sole? I have a good mind to get one of these babies.

  8. I got the sole that I posted on twitter from the wet market in Shunfu. Wasn’t a Dover or lemon sole. Although I’ve seen those at 360 in Ion. The sole I used was the local variety.

  9. You’re welcome. Let me know if you get a Dover or lemon sole! Would love to make that dish with a Dover.

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