Thursday, September 28, 2006

Otak Otak Burger

Most of us here in SG who enjoyed our childhood years from the 60s andn70s will remember the otak otak hawker that comes around every other day with his mobile charcoal stove and sticks of coconut leaf wrapped with a paste of blended fish meat, spices and coconut milk. Such street snacks were sheer delight and something affordable from our daily canteen allowance despite being repeatedly told not to buy food from outside hawkers by our school principal.
The Nonyas have a more deluxe version wrapped in banana leaves and sometimes include extra items like prawn meat or squid. Eaten with Nasi Lemak (coconut milk flavoured rice) or as a filling for a hot sandwich, Otak Otak is synonymous with SG cuisine and evokes nostalgic feelings for many who grew up in this era.
The invasion of fast food in the local scene has started to see the adaptation of local flavours into burgers and sandwiches. Here’s my take on the Asian Otak burger served with Mango Pomelo Salsa in Thai Sweet Chili Dressing.

Recipe will be uploaded later.

Meanwhile enjoy the beauty of the picture.....


Private Dinners-What to expect?

Catching on with the social elites of Singaporeans is the trend of having a private chef to cook at your next dinner and wine party. While this might still be in its infancy stage until the arrival of the globally rich and famous when the IRs are completed, nevertheless I am lucky enough to have been constantly introduced by the word of the mouth. It takes both hands to clap. An on site recce should be done two weeks before the event to evaluate the workflow and facilities of the dinner location. Hence to make a dinner work, the chef must sit down to plan with the host on the event itself. From menus to wines to available crockery and cutlery, details should be ironed out including wash up and marketing issues. Having been a Private Chef in Europe and US, one of the first things we check in menu planning are preferences and allergies. There after we go through the wines if any to match ingredients and cooking methods with kitchen facilities in consideration too.

Depending on the menu requested, prices won't be any cheaper than the fine dinning restaurant but the law of economics applies. However u get to have the luxury of dinning in the comfort of your own home plus personalised butler service if u are will to pay for one. From 2-30 people, the type of menu depends on the occasion and how formal the host wants to be. Usually the larger the numbers, the more casual it becomes. If u or your guests have no allergies, then the whole world's cuisine is your oyster. Usually I prefer to propose a sensible menu than to let the host become too adventurous, such that the theme for the event might be lost due to selection of dishes that do not compliment one course with the other.

People may forget the restaurant the were in, but they will always remember the pleasure of eating straight off the kitchen with a personal Chef experience.

No regrets!


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Upgrading Ideas

Singaporeans have an obsession to upgrade everything possible, inspired by major government housing projects, road networks and our ever world class transport system. So when will they ever upgrade the Chef 's profession and paltry salaries to that of our colleagues in First World countries?

Anyway when I am in the mood for soupy dishes, one of my favourites is Yee Pin Mai Fun or Fish Fillets with Thick Rice Noodles in a Creamy Broth. There are alternative versions with clear broth, boiled or deepfried fish fillets, Teochew or Cantonese Style. I was task to create an upgraded version for a VIP guest this afternoon in line with the my presentation for food trends in SG. As such, the idea below was inspired by the classic dish from above. Simply was to present the dish with more elegance and gourmet appeal.

Poached Threadfin (Ikan Kurau) Fillet in Superior Seafood Broth with XO Sauce




100g Dried Shrimps
100g Dried Scallops
4 pcs Dried Cuttlefish
1 pc Konbu(Kelp)
1kg Fish Bones (Ikan Kurau)
40g Dried Shitake Mushrooms
500g Pig Skin
150g Old Ginger
60g Garlic Cloves
80g Spring Onion Stalks
3.5 liters Water


4pcs Threadfin Fillets (Ikan Kurau)
200g Bean Sprouts (Trimmed)
200g Pea Shoots/Dou Miao (Trimmed)
2 whole Tomatoes, seeded and diced
800ml Superior Seafood Broth
150ml Evaporated Milk
2tbsps Fish Sauce
½ tsp Sugar
4tbsps Shaoxing Wine
4tsp XO Sauce
Chopped Spring Onions

Preparation Method:

Combine all stock ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce to slow simmer and cook for 2 hours. Skim off all scum and fat occasionally.

Drain stock, discard solids and reserve liquid till ready to use. Store in refrigerator for up to a week or keep in a freezer for up to 3months.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the two vegetables. Divide into 4 portions. Poach fish fillet in simmering water for about 3-4 minutes. Drain and place on top of vegetables.

Bring broth to the boil and adjust seasoning with salt and sugar. Add evaporated milk and Shaoxing Wine. Ladle broth over fish, top with XO sauce and spring onions. Throw the diced tomatoes around and serve immediately.

Chef Tip:

Fish can be substituted with Garoupa, Seabass or Snapper.



Monday, September 25, 2006

Crossroads Cuisines

Date of Review: 23rd September


Amara Singapore, Level 2,
165 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088539
Tel: 62273848

We had originally decided to check a new Korean restaurant in town which by word of mouth, I heard was inspired by Dae Jung Gum (Da Chang Jin 大长今). As it was a busy weekend of classes for N and me, I did not make reservations despite a nagging inner voice to tell me so. We arrived around 745pm only to be greeted by an apologetic Korean hostess informing us that a table will only be available after 830pm. (They just got reviewed two days earlier!) Not wanting to wait, we were about to opt for Hue Restobar one floor below when I remembered we had not visited Silk Road Restaurant for a while. My wife N wasn’t too keen and but still obliged.

The last time we came by to Silk Road Restaurant was more than a year ago. There were some hits and miss on the menu ordered due to our inexperienced taste buds then but since having visited Cheng Du (Sichuan) during last winter, we are now more enlightened about its dynamic cuisine.
A quick glance, much of the restaurant décor is still the same except it seemed to be almost entirely run by PRC chefs and service staff other than the odd Indian restaurant manager. As the name implies, Silk Road features the cuisine of 4 main provinces in China, Beijing, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Liaoning, where this ancient historical route runs through, bringing trade, wealth and culture exchange from the Far East to the West. A run through of the menu showed some new items while perennial favourites have been retained. Last round we had Sliced Pork with Garlic Chili Oil, Cold Noodles and Seafood Crispy Rice Bubbles (海鲜锅吧), which my wife liked very much. Someone had told me that the Beijing Roast Duck was really good too!

N ordered her favourite Eight Treasure Tea while I opted for Long Jing Green Tea. Silk Road is not just about the food it serves, it has an in house tea master who is not some bearded old sage but a rather young and able looking expert mastered with the artful posture of pouring hot water from a meter long spout copper teapot to brew tea. There were a couple dishes that caught my fancy from the menu and we ordered quickly as our tummies were getting in sync with the beat of the Korean Drum next door.

Before I get to the menu ordered, I must say that in China, it’s a restaurant’s pride to serve quality “Pao Cai” or cold nibbles before ordered dishes arrive. These are chargeable items in Singapore but I do not mind as long as I feel that the chefs have paid some decent attention to it. What is it that irks me in SG is they sometimes give you processed peanuts which u did not asked for in the first place, and charge you ridiculously for it. Silk Road offers a decent portion of sliced Sichuan Pickled Vegetables dressing in Chili and Sesame Oils. While it is quite tasty on its own, it is even better when u have it with steamed rice in between dishes.

First arrival alongside our table was the Beijing Duck. We were lucky enough to have a table next to us ordering the same item hence we were given a whole freshly roasted duck carve in front of us and divided into two serving portions. As this dish is represented in a more contemporary way, we were also served meat together with the skin. The aromas from the steam rising was making us salivate as the chef deftly cut up the well-roasted bird before allowing it to cool down too much. It was nice to see homemade wheat pancakes with the carved meat along side with standard hoisin sauce as well as garnishes like cucumber and shredded spring onions. The crisp reddish brown skin was so good enough to eat on its own without the extras but still it was great to make a few wrappings with the carved meat. The only grouch was I preferred to have the vegetables more finely cut.

Next to be served was Steam Codfish with Crispy Soy Bean Crumbs. While there is nothing to rave about with the codfish, which I found the portion was rather small; it’s the bean that matters. This dish is getting extinct in SG as the bean crumbs are getting more expensive with limited availability. The dried soybean crumbs are a specialty of Sichuan Cuisine with a toasty savoury note. They need to be coarsely grounded and lightly fried till crispy. There after they become very crispy and fragrant and are commonly used as a topping for steamed fish. Most chefs would just sprinkle on before serving, I can taste that the chefs have taken an extra step to sauté the bean crumbs with chili oil and crushed Sichuan Peppercorns, thereby making it even more fragrant with a spicy numbing sensation, a signature taste of Sichuan Cuisine. Without the fish, the crumbs were still great with rice

Last dish onboard was Hunan Style Braised Pork, which I find rather a peasant dish. Streaky belly was cooked simply with carrots and garlic in a delicious sauce made with soy, vinegar and some ketchup. The sauce was rich with the pork tender to the point of melt in mouth. With rice, the gravy was great with the left over bean crumbs from the fish dish though I kept fantasizing it would be better with deep fried mantou.

In between our meal, we were treated to a short performance by the tea master on the different styles of tea brewing with the extra long spout teapot. The styles and movement though resembled more like martial arts pugilistic movements were nonetheless refined and represented a signature attraction of Silk Road.

N chose a Chilled Aloe Vera Soup with Fresh Lily Bulbs and Wolfberries for dessert, which I found rather clear and refreshing with good contrasts in taste and texture. The aloe vera had a tinge of bitterness that was calmed by the sweet syrup and wolfberries. The crunchy fresh lily bulbs provided additional bite and complimented the dessert well. My choice of Watermelon and Chilled Longan turn up rather lacklustre so I rather not talk about it here.

In summary, Silk Road offers authentic recipes from the 4 provinces in China with its team of “Foreign Talent” Chefs. Preferably it takes one to have been to any of these provinces in order to understand some of its cuisine better especially when literal translation of some of its dishes sound like “Husband and Wife Sliced Lungs”(肤妻肺片)………

Check it out!


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Birthday Dinner

My wife N had asked me where would I like to go for dinner for my birthday this year.Looking back at the events around my birthday, I would prefer to stay at home for dinner . We had been eating since our wedding anniversary day, followed on by a tea party the next day. The day after, we hosted a Chili Crab dinner for a family friend from Norway who is back in SG for her sabbatical home coming every two years. Too much at one go and I was feeling tired and craved for something simple. Simple actually meant more stress for N, who seldom cooks. Still, there are a few dishes that she does very well and more importantly it makes us feel more connected with her big effort. I am not a picky eater but somehow most people always feel stressed cooking for chefs. I can understand but just treat us as ordinary humans looking for comfort food. Something I understood when I catered to VVIPs like royalties, Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders in Europe and US.

On my B day after work, I walk into the house greeted by familiar smells and aromas of my wife's cooking. She had put together a couple of dishes with soup and dessert thrown in as well. I could sniff out my favourite Black Soya braised chicken that N does so well and the traditional Hakka dish of Stir Fried Bamboo Shoots with Minced Pork, Chillies and Eggs was in the works. She had also cleverly made soup using the pickled vegetables given to us by our Shantou relatives during our last trip to Shenzhen in August.
I don't often get to eat my wife's cooking due to our busy work schedules which is why I am very appreciative when she dons the apron.
The soya braised chicken was done with whole chicken thighs that is not only tender from braising, it is also the most flavourful part of the bird for any kind of stew. Instead of doing it over the stove, N likes to slow braise the chicken thighs in the the oven uncovered after assembling the necessary spices and soya sauce. This allows a few pieces to be exposed to the top grill while sitting submerged in the gravy beneath. I call this the braise and broil method which the chicken comes out with minimal fat left on the skin, yet wonderfully juicy tender and full of flavours. While the ingredients are simple, the key to success is to have a really good soya sauce used.

Next was the quick stir fry of bamboo shoots with minced pork and eggs. N, who is semi Hakka, learnt this dish from her mother who had inherited this recipe from her own mother-in-law.
Winter bamboo shoots were used as they do not have an unpleasant odour that comes with regular canned bamboo shoots. Fish sauce was the only seasoning added. Again, the simplicity of the dish with delicious flavours came through very well because of the bamboo shoots and fish sauce, both whom are ingredients with a high taste of umami.

The accompanying soup was well flavoured with by the pickled vegetables which I tasted for the first time. My mum had constantly told me that thi
s was a specialty of our hometown in Shantou and if you use it to make soup, just throw in bland ingredients like tofu and canned button mushrooms, let the pickled vegetable do the work to harmonise everything together. How true! N had just used only tofu, coriander leaves and black pepper with the pickled vegetable broth. All things nice, we finished the meal with Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Peanut Filling in Clear Syrup that N had lovingly put together for me. She had earlier sent a birthday bouquet to the office resulting in unrelentless teasing from colleagues. Well, at least I am the only one with a wife that values such gestures!

Life's a bliss.....


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Doing Their Best

Date of Review: 16th September 2006
Restaurant Featured:

Il Lido
Sentosa Golf Club
Bukit Manis Road
Singapore 099892

Tel : 68661977
Fax: 68661979

Hours of Operation:
Lunch : 11.30am – 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.30pm – 11pm

Reservations: Yes
Owner: Beppe De Vito
Chef: Chef De Cuisine Michele Pavanello

I have been eyeing to check out this restaurant since it opened its doors in Feb 06. As a professional in the food industry, its always good to let a new restaurant settle its dust and smoothen all hiccups before doing an honest review. Sadly this is always not the case in Singapore as the local media is always too hungry for new restaurants write ups within 2weeks of opening, throwing everyone working in there with a nightmare to handle an impending crush of curious patrons while juggling with unexpected situations in operations.

Il Lido to me was not just a gastronomic experience, it was one of the best service restaurants i had experienced so far. The occasion was my 3rd wedding anniversary, I had tried to make a reservation as since Wednesday only to be told that it was fully booked. However they were professional enough to put me on a wait list and promised to call back once a table was available before Saturday afternoon. This to me was good business sense for a restaurant which many lack in Singapore. By Friday I had my table confirmed and the restaurant sweet enough to double check my reservation again on Saturday morning.

Turning up at the restaurant on time, we were ushured to the alfresco dinning area. My wife N, preferred the indoor dinning area and I politely reminded them that we had asked for it when we made our reservations. We were given a table indoors almost immediately, no questions asked.

Everything on the menu looks good but my eye had caught sight of the deep fried calamari that whizzed past just before we sat down. Wanting to be pampared, N left the menu planning to me. I opted to choose our appetisers, share a pasta and two main courses.

Without saying I opted for the calamari as starters while my wife prefered the seared scallops. Any good Italian restaurant no matter how refined or basic will always try to offer this perennial favourite as part of its menu. I was not disappointed. The Deep Fried Calamari came with a small serving of cold tomato sauce on the side. Fresh chunks of calamari was lightly seasoned and dredge in flour before being deep fried. One bite, I could tell that cooks were well trained indeed. The calamari was tender to bite, cooked to the right doneness at the right temperature with a thin crisp coating of flour. Dipping into the chilled tomato sauce created hot and cold sensations on the palate with the greasiness from deep frying nicely cut by the tanginess of the sauce. My wife’s order of scallops was also well done with 4 beautiful pieces perfectly seared to caramelization, accompanied with a saffron infused asparagus salad. Needless t0 say, they were gone before I could even finish my own calamari which by the way was really a huge portion that can be shared by two for a starter.Personally i feel that the DFC served at Ristorante Valentino @ Rifle Range Road has finally found its match. I prefer the Il Lido version although Valentino's calamari is also one the best around.

In between courses, we nibbled on olive oil and rosemary crusted crostinis which was a nice change from your regular dough, oil and vinegar fix. Arriving next on our table was the Linguine Pasta with Spiny Lobster in Spicy Tomato Sauce. I could tell that the sauce was based on an Arrabiata idea except that this was no ordinary Arrabiata sauce. My gut feel and experience tells me that the Chef has made the sauce with the addition of lobster shells thereby giving it an extra dimension of crustacean flavour. This really made the sauce extra special and the genrous chunks of lobster meat with al dente Linguine and fresh herbs was beautifully brought out by this wonderful combination.

Moving on, we look forward to our main courses and by now, the restaurant was getting really noisy with a big group that has taken up quite a space. N and I traded places tonight. She took on the the USDA Prime Beef Tenderloin with Sage, Parma Ham, Balsamic Glazed Shallots and Polenta Cake. Her dish was a "Saltimboca" inspired idea. The beef was up to expectation and N loved the sweet and sour caramelised shallots, i found the polenta cake comforting. An unexpected glitch in this masterpiece was that the cook forgot to remove the butcher string that secured the ham around the tenderloin during preparation. It was one of those mistakes that happens when you are on the line gaining experience under tremendous pressure to perform. I have done that too during my earlier years in the trade. Ironically, the Captain for our table tonight was an ex-colleague from Ristorante Bologna in Marina Mandarin Hotel where i did my apprenticeship 17 years ago.

My main course was Crispy Seabass with Porcini Mushrooms, Spinach and Scampi Cream. I had two lovely dill flavoured fillets of line caught seabass filled in between with sauteed porcini mushrooms and baby spinach, rested on a creamy bed of scampi shells infused sauce. A poached baby Langoustine(scampi) accompanied with a fresh sprig of dill made the dish look really fabulous in presentation, simple yet artistic. The creamy scampi flavoured sauce was a natural with the moist fillets, while the porcinis lifted the bland spinach.

Sweet endings to well orchestrated meals are one of the most important criteria in my personal reviews. I don't crave for complex desserts but love simplicity or challenges in taste combinations. We ordered a classic paring of vanilla and dark chocolate flavours. This came to us in the form of Molten Lava Chocolate with Home Made Vanilla Bean Gelato. Besides the familar flavours, there was a interesting temperature difference between hot dark chocolate baked with crispy phyllo pastry and cold vanilla bean flavoured Italian style ice cream. FYI, Il Lido's Vanilla Bean Gelato is flavoured naturally with scraped vanilla pods and you can see little black specks of it in the ice cream. In otherwards,this is the real thing!Definetly not essence based.

My wife, N, has always look forward to a nice glass of dessert wine when it comes to sweets. I ordered a glass of Visanto for her and it came not only with two, but was served on the house. A really sweet gesture indeed!Though we know they were trying to make up for the glitch in the steak earlier, I must say that more often than not, a polite feedback to all service professionals does more wonders than causing loud complaints and uneccessary embaressment to all. Don't you agree?

Congratulations to Chef Michele and his kitchen team for a well orchestrated dinner, Mr De Vito for having the right team in service excellence.

Eat and live well, be happy.


PS. Normally I would love to enclose some pics but we didn't have good lighting for pics at our table.

Welcome to My Blog!

September is a good month to launch new ideas and is a special month for me with many good memories and events. September is my birth month, its the month when I came back home to Singapore for good after almost 6 years of globettoting, its the month of my wedding aniversary. September was the month when I learnt about wine making, seeing the "crush" of harvested wine grapes in Napa/Sonoma Valleys. It is also the beginning of fall, where seasonal changes in colours takes place, from lush green to mellow colours of yellow and red, the variety of foods ingredients to play with is also at its peak in this month where summer squashes and berries are coming to an end, luscious apples and pears start to make their appearance in farmers markets, earthy mushrooms and truffles are stepping into the culinary scene. Game hunting season also begins.

One of my favourite dishes in September is Linguine Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms and Proscuito De Parma. While this is sinfully rich, the pairing of porcini mushrooms with air cured ham bonded beautifully with cream, garlic, Italian parsley and wine is simply heavenly! Washed down with a nice glass of chilled white or rose, it can really make your day. Too bad we can't get Spanish Serrano Ham in Singapore, or else it would even be better as Serrano Ham made from the Iberian Black Pig (Kurobuta) is considered one of the finest in the world.

Linguine with Porcini Mushrooms and Parma Ham

4 portions

1pkt Linguine Pasta (500g dry weight), cooked al dente
30g Butter
160g Parma Ham/Serrano Ham, shaved or diced
1tsp Chopped Garlic
200g Fresh Shitake Mushrooms, sliced
200g Porcini Mushrooms, sliced
100g Fresh Button Mushrooms, sliced
100ml White Wine
750ml Whipping Cream
Salt to taste
2tbsps Chopped Parsley/Spring Onions

Preparation Method:

Melt butter and sauté ham and garlic till fragrant. Add the mushrooms and cook for two minutes.

Pour in the white wine, cream and bring to simmer. Season the sauce with salt and add the pasta. Toss well and sprinkle the chopped parsley over. Serve immediately.

Chef Tip: In trying to get your pasta cooked “al dente”, the way as it should be eaten like the Italians do, cut back the boiling time of the pasta by two minutes in accordance to the recomended cooking time stated as instructions on the label. You will need these 2 minutes for tossing the pre cooked pasta over the stove with the sauce.

Have fun!


(cook with love, eat with passion and share the joy!)