Beyond producing a delectable and visually stunning plate, these maestros are fearlessly pushing boundaries, changing things up, and doing it with panache. Sara Mahendran and Clara How meet the beautiful minds on the dining scene.
Coconut laksa leaf ice cream with pomelo and green chilli.
THE ALCHEMIST: CHEF RISHI NALEENDRA, CHEEK BY JOWL
Chef Rishi Naleendra hates cooking. To be precise, he hates the tedious, routine executions that cooking entails. “I can’t cook bangers and mash or avocado on toast for a living. I don’t enjoy the routine of standing in a section and basting meat,” he says candidly.
“What I enjoy is being able to create, otherwise I’ll be bored.” You could say Chef Rishi operates like a scientist, spending weeks just experimenting with dishes – calibrating flavours and textures until he gets the perfect balance. The 32-year-old, who used to play guitar in a grunge band, likens great food to a good song.
“You can’t listen to an unbalanced song. If the bass is too much, that’s the only thing you hear, and that means you’re missing out so much [in the rest of the song].” His menu reflects his obsession with achieving balance. Take for example a simple dish of goat’s cheese. It’s served with horseradish (for heat), pickled raisin dressing (for sweetness and acidity) and saltbaked beetroot (for oomph), all of which work together to cut through the cloying creaminess of the cheese.
And the Michelinstarred chef’s penchant for experimentation means he sometimes strikes gold. He recalls roasting mackerel bones to make broth, and when that didn’t work out quite the way he wanted, he decided to crush the bones and use them to crust the fish instead.
It worked perfectly.
“Sometimes an idea comes in a matter of minutes, and sometimes it takes months or even years to put on a plate.
If you don’t put in that effort, you can’t create anything extraordinary.” You won’t find luxe ingredients in Chef Rishi’s kitchen. In fact, the simpler, the better, so he can put his creativity and technique to the test. He says: “I’m my biggest barrier. And I try to outdo myself every day.”