Just how much effort goes into producing a dish? The Peak steps into the kitchens of Singapore’s most celebrated restaurants to take notes.
TEXT KOH YUEN LIN PHOTOGRAPHY ANGELA GUO & ZAPHS ZHANG ART DIRECTION DENISE REI LOW
At Morsels, chefowner Petrina Loh ferments a wide variety of ingredients in mason jars.
One batch of carrots is lacto-fermented (a process where starches and sugars in vegetables areconverted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria) forup to five days to transform it into a tangy pickle. Another batch is lacto-fermented for around three days, so that it is less sour; this is thensteamed and made into a fine puree with mirin.
PANCETTA AND FARRO
In a chiller, pancetta iscured with gochugaru(Korean hot pepper)flakes and Cambodian Kampot red pepper fortwo weeks, and furtherhung for another twoin 80 per cent humidity. It is then chopped andcooked with farro andChinese celery.
PRIMROSE FARM PORK LOIN
The pork loin is cured in a brining mix with allspice, cumin, caraway, liquorice and whitepeppercorns for 24 hours. It is then preparedsous vide for another four. “I’m a fan oflayering of flavours. And adding spices givesthat accent that I’m looking for,” says Loh.
BLACK GARLIC AND ANCHOVIES
Garlic is fermented in a rice cooker for closeto two weeks, before it is blended with whiteanchovies (boquerones) and brown anchoviesto create an intense umami paste.
WOOD EAR FUNGUS
Dried wood ear fungus is rehydrated before it’spickled in a mixture of ginger, chilli padi, Zhenjiang black vinegar, Chinese rose wine, and house madegarlic oil for 72 hours. The process infuses rich flavours into the fungus and softens it.
Primrose Farm pork loin | Black garlic and anchovies Wood ear fungus | Carrots | Pancetta and farro
Private banker-turned-chef-restaurateur Petrina Loh might be a California Culinary Academy graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu programme, but traditional Asian food has a distinct inﬂuence on her cooking. And keeping true to her principle of doing just about everything from scratch, the chef-owner of Morsels dedicates plenty of time to ageing, curing and fermenting myriad ingredients – a tradition shared among many Asian culinary cultures. These might appear as accent elements on the plate, but you should certainly pay attention to them.
Slicing raw cucumber strips takes about 5 minutes, and this demands fierce precision from the chef – eachribbon measures exactly180mmx3mmx3mm. This is so that a stable andaesthetically beautifulbase can be built for thecrab meat that sits on top. The strips are brushed with butter and linedagainst the interiors ofa metal ring to form atower, through a process that takes 12 minutes. The cucumber towers aresteamed prior to serving.
TOMATO AND CORN SAUCE
The sauce for the dish is a mixture of cornjuice, fish stock (which takes two hours tocook) and tomato water. The tomato waterrequires ripe yet firm tomatoes to be seededand stewed for six hours; this removes theacidity of the fruit and brings out its perfume. They are then strained and pressed for eight hours to obtain the clear tomato water.
HOKKAIDO HAIRY CRAB
The crab is steamed andde-shelled, ensuring that the picked meat is free ofeven the tiniest shard ofbone or shell. The meatis then inspected underultraviolet light in therestaurant’s darkenedcheese room to weed outany remaining bones.
Hokkaido hairy crab | Tomato and corn sauce | Cucumber12
The Michelin-star Saint Pierre might be a contemporary French restaurant, but there is a very distinct Zen-likequality in its dishes. This is because, to Relais & Chateaux grand chef Emmanuel Stroobant, perfection lies insimplicity. At Saint Pierre, this translates to dishes with a maximum of ﬁve ﬂavours and elements, in which theessence of the season’s best ingredients is drawn out and allowed to speak for itself. Yet simplicity is not simple– as demonstrated in this delicate starter.
Salted short ribs arecooked sous vide, at65 deg C for 48 hours,to give it a toothsomebraised-like texture. This approach alsoallows the beef to“retain the pinkness of a medium rare steak”, details Woo.
ANGELICA ROOT SAUCE
Caramelised chickenmeat and roasted onions are simmeredin water for a daybefore it is left torest for another. On the third day, thestock is strainedand reduced to a velvety consistency. Just before service,butter is added, while Angelica rootslices are steepedin the sauce for a few minutes to impart its uniqueflavour and aroma.
Black fungus is pickled in a mixtureof black vinegar andsugar, vacuum sealed,and chilled for 24 hours. To serve, Wootosses the fungus in ahot cast iron pan whileblow-torching thepieces concurrently. This caramelises the sugar in the pickling liquid, lendingcrunch to the chewypieces of fungus.
Thinly sliced Chinese pears are dehydratedfor 12 to 24 hours, resulting in dry, slightlyleathery pieces “somewhat like thetexture of Chinese herbs you get from themedicine hall”, describes Woo. It is thensimmered briefly in water before serving.
Short ribs | Angelica root sauce | Chinese pear | Black fungus
At Restaurant Ibid, chef and Masterchef Asia winner Woo Wai Leong showcases a cuisine with verycosmopolitan inﬂuences. The execution employs Western techniques, the plating is contemporary in aesthetics,but ﬂavours are rooted in the Asian dishes Woo grew up eating. The East-meets-West contemporary cuisinewhich he calls Nanyang Style, represents Woo’s “quest to deﬁ ne identity through food” – a common threadamong young Singaporean chefs who are lending their own interpretation to familiar dishes and ﬂavours.
ORANGE SPONGE CAKE
Oranges are dried for two weeks before being pulverised. The resulting powder substitutes part of theflour used to make the cake. The orange jam derived from dehydrating the whole fruit is also utilisedin the cake. The cakemixture is then baked,cooled, and soaked ina spiced orange syrup.
Orange zest, almond milk, bitter almonds,xanthan gum and gelatin are mixed and the flavours all owedto infuse for 45 minutes. The mixtureis then strained through a siphon and refrigerated for six hours before it ispiped out as a foam.
ASSAM ICE CREAM
Assam tea and milk is boiled and allowed toinfuse for 15 minutes to let a strong flavourdevelop. The mixture is then strained, cooled,and combined with sugar and eggs yolks. It is then frozen for 24 hours.
Depending on its size, the oranges aredehydrated for 48 to 56 hours. This processslowly caramelises the orange pulp, while naturally occurring pectin in the fruit is allowedto gel – forming athick bittersweet paste of intense marmalade flavour.
BERGAMOT PATE DE FRUIT
To make the bergamot pate de fruit lyingbeneath the almond foam, bergamot pureeis cooked for about 20 minutes with sugar,pectin and an additional acid. It is thenpoured into moulds and allowed to cool.
Assam ice cream | Orange sponge cake | Almond foam | Bergamot pate de fruit | Orange
Chef Ivan Brehm, who led The Kitchen at Bacchanalia in Singapore to its ﬁrst Michelin star in 2016, hasalways been famed for his modernist techniques. After all, he is also an alumnus of The Fat Duck, where he wasdevelopment chef at Heston Blumenthal’s experimental kitchen. He is known to industry players as a thinking chef – there is certainly a lot more than meets the eye in each of his creations. Every dish tells of myriadinﬂ uences across different cultures, and behind every element, painstaking effort.