Good taste is paramount for Ong Chih Ching, whose repertoire ranges from technically challenging dishes for slow satisfaction to clever tips for almost-instant gratifi cation.
The residents of the uber-luxe Ritz-Carlton Residences on Cairnhill have Ong Chih Ching to thank for their thoughtfully designed kitchens, outfitted with Sub-Zero fridge, Poggenpohl shelving system and Miele kitchen appliances. The co-founder and chairman of the KOP Group and KOP Properties, which developed the property, pretty much directed the design of the estate – after all, it is also where she calls home. Being a passionate cook, it was only natural for her to make the kitchen exceptional. Apart from the top-end fittings, the space even boasts a one-way glass sliding door that separates it from the dining room – so that guests at the table can enjoy a meal without being distracted by the kitchen action.
But do not mistake Ong for a high-maintenance cook who relies heavily on her expensive toys. Even as a law student in London, she was making crispskinned Chinese-style roast duck from scratch, with very limited resources. “It is still one of my favourite dishes to prepare, because it’s complicated and very challenging. Mess up one step, you have to start over,” she says with a glint in her eye.
Ong – who has been fascinated by how ingredients get transformed into delicious dishes since she was a child – then reveals that she could debone a whole chicken, intact, by about 12 years of age.
Yet, time is a luxury for the high-powered property entrepreneur these days. “I don’t cook for myself, so I spend time in the kitchen only when I’m entertaining. And, because of my busy schedule, I entertain only friends, perhaps, once a quarter.” Given her time constraints, technically challenging dishes have given way to clever creations that are zippy to prepare, yet impressive on the palate. “I would describe my cooking style as innovative. I often find inspiration from books I read and recipes I discover from my cookbooks – but I always tend to add something different or twist the instructions ever so slightly. I prefer invention, rather than be fixated on something classic.” An example would be the “maki roll” of torched toro on a bed of thinly spread Japanese sushi rice, served with spicy Korean seaweed.
There is more to it than meets the eye: Take a bite and you will be surprised by the delicate crunch of crushed potato crisps within the soft, tender fish. “I would normally use dou si (fermented beans) fried to a crisp, but when there isn’t time, potato chips will do,” says Ong, revealing her practical side. Another snappy dish of hers: baked portobello mushroom with mayonnaise. “It takes less than five minutes to prepare but, so far, the hit rate has been 100 per cent!” says Ong with a laugh. “Just fill a portobello with garlic and Japanese mayonnaise – specifically Kewpie brand, with the red cap – and allow the mayonnaise to burn on top and melt into the mushroom like butter. The same can also be done on a half-lobster dish.”
Ong Chih Ching shows that a dash of creativity transforms a dish from “good” to “excellent” – such as her “maki roll”, which includes crushed potato crisps within the toro.
“What makes a very good chef is not technique, but good taste. Technique can be learnt but good taste is a gift.”