Sunday, March 23, 2008

Newspaper Article 14th March

The writer of this blog was featured in the billingual newspaper "My Paper" last week. As usual with local press, they will ask u for tonnes of information and then only publish half the story to their readers. I have it before already with Business Times and Sunday Life, now the one below is no surprise either:To my readers, here is the full story which u people will never see it published:

1. How were you being inducted as one of the omy bloggers?
Out of the blue one day two months before omy was launched, one of your colleagues got a referral about me from another referral, called me and the rest is history.
2. What is your exact occupation and where do you ply your craft?
I Cook, Host , Educate and Feed people about food professionally, ie CHEF. I started learning the craft since 16yrs old and never looked back since. I have done time in hotels, restaurants, catering, serving onboard super size megayachts and going with them around the world as well as undertaking personal chef disciplines of this profession. Currently I have spread my wings into research and development for the last five years incorporating the science of food and cooking with culinary art as a new portfolio. I practice this in the research facilities and kitchens of the world’s largest food, beverage and wellness company, N.
3. What are some of the goals you hope to achieve through your blog now that it's being read by the multitudes?
Realistically I hope to share more stories about my adventures with food and cuisines around the world as I travel regularly. Also to educate more people about how chefs look at food and the art of its appreciation from a culinary expert point of view. Well reading is not really enough, to understand things better, people also should come by to experience some of the global cuisine workshops that I conduct to introduce new ideas and ways of cooking from experiences (
Singaporeans eat to be seen but often more than half of the people I talk to have no idea what they are putting in their mouths and how things should be appreciated in the different cuisines as it is in their original culture. A good example is the appreciation of Spanish cuisine in Singapore. While many are hip and hop about celebrating Italian cuisine here because it is easy to start with pizza and pasta, but nobody can really say the same about Spanish food in Singapore. Both countries share the bounties of the Mediterranean Sea, have similar kind of cheeses, hams and vegetables as their cuisine repertoire and have a strong love for the taste of pork in different ways of preparation. But just look at how many Spanish restaurants are there in Singapore in comparison with Italian restaurants not to mention those that can be really called authentic. Pardon me, but if you can’t even find padron peppers here to start with as one of the most basic form of tapas, how far else can u go?

Unrealistically, I dream that all the people who read my blog will have the same enthusiasm about food in an educated way from media, dinning experiences and reference readings of various food related publications as I do and if that happens, the Chef profession will become the most respected occupation in Singapore. Right now I can’t even say if it has made it to top twenty yet. Singaporeans generally still prefer to be served than having to serve.

4. What is it about your blog do you think will attract layman readers who haven't got a clue about fine dining and quality cuisines?
Pictures. Along with the stories of the articles, every picture says a thousand words and is self explanatory when you look at them. Also, I try to explain the emotions, feelings evolved, and the right mindset of the dinning experiences in relation to the restaurant’s environment, chefs’ skills and the complexity of preparing such dishes in a stressful environment.

5. As a chef, what is your axiom when it comes to creating culinary delights?
Never serve food to people that you would not want to have for yourself.

6. We all know that you are an avid traveller through your blog, please tell us about a trip or two that you remember the best and what was about it that made it so memorable - the food, the people, the sights etc?
1) 1998 Atlantic Crossing. Working onboard a Monaco based super yacht, we had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Fort Lauderdale in Florida for the annual boat show there. The trip took us across the Mediterranean Sea, encountering 7 foot waves around the Gulf of Lyon. We stop at Gibraltar for fuel and took shelter again in Tenerife, Spanish Canary Islands before making the pitch to cross the ocean. We were blessed with fantastic weather and tail currents pushing us as we cross the ocean for five an half days, reaching the US Virgin Islands of St Croix. Along the way, I saw dolphins trying to chase our yacht by swimming along side us and playing with the waves created by the propellers. I admired beautiful sunsets and sunrises over the horizon and no matter how big a boat looks in port, it’s just a tiny weenie dot on the vast ocean. There was peace in appreciating the calmness if the ocean at times and we also passed an entire US Navy Carrier Battle Group of aircraft carrier, frigates and destroyers. It was an awesome sight. In the nights, it was pitch dark on deck that you could not even see your own palm. But it was so beautiful looking at the stars on clear cloudless nights.
2) Atlantis Bahamas Integrated Resort
After the boat show in Florida, we move to Paradise Island in the Bahamas for three months when the Atlantis Integrated Resort first opened in 1999. It was the most happening place on earth then with the luxurious accommodations, casinos, a few fantastic underground aquariums and lots of food and beverage outlets to choose from. Though we did not stay in the resort rooms, we still use the facilities of the resort and full access to the attractions on it. It was a memorable three months of seeing and experiencing a brand new integrated resort way even before Singapore talked about building them.

7. What is the dish that has you wanting to go back for more all this while? Why?
Mum’s Braised Chicken Wings with Carrots and Potatoes. A simple home cooked dished of braised deep fried chicken wings with soy sauce, spices, carrots and potatoes, the wings were braised till it was almost falling off the bone the taste of it very balanced with a delcious balances in taste of savoury sweetness. I practically grew up with this dish from the day I could take rice as a toddler and thinking about it makes me salivate. It was especially memorable when I was away working in Europe and US and it’s a comfort food that makes me feel homesick sometimes.
8. If you meet a rat who can teach you how to cook a dish, what will it be?
Being born in the year of the Rat, it would be more interesting to go out and explore new dishes together.

9. Please pick a lesser known Singaporean dish that has a potential to be known internationally a la Chicken Rice, and why so?
Char Kway Teow. The best plate that I have eaten comes from the tuck-shop of the old St Anthony’s Boys School in Victoria Street. It was so good that the principal had to put a stop on members of the public from coming in to the school just to eat it. Char Kway Teow is a dish of Teochew origin. But it is found around South East Asia in many different forms. In Malaysia, Penang Char Kway Teow is the best in the country. In Thailand, Pad Thai is the Tha represented version while Cambodia, and Vietnam, Char Kway Teow is kept close to its roots as the way it’s done in Shantou China. The fried noodles are served white with slight variations of condiments like prawns and pickled radish that distinguishes them from one another. Interestingly, Singapore Char Kway Teow is fried with a sweet molasses flavoured dark soya sauce and cockles. It has been widely accepted by locals and integrated as part of our local food culture. It is being widely promoted by our tourism board as one of the icons of our local hawker dishes.

10. Many people think that preparing fine dining takes alot of time and effort. Is this true or just plain hearsay? What was the fastest time you took to create a palatable dish?
Fine dining recipes take skills and patience to prepare. Skills are required because of a greater technical difficulty. Patience is a must to combine the individually prepared components of a dish for example the marinating of meats, preparation of sauces and garnishes. Culinary Artistry is also required to assemble all these components into a dish. Actually it is easy to prepare these individual components but takes time to prepare them. It’s all about organizing your preparation work or misc-en-place as we call it in kitchen lingo and u can assemble a dish with cooking involved in 10-15 minutes. Many people do not understand that the high prices charged in fine dinning is to justify all these activities which they do not see as customers.

11. Lastly, please tell us if you would eat the things you cook or do you prefer to let others taste it instead?
It is imperative that all chefs must taste their creations before serving them to customers. We are professionals so we must take responsibilities to make sure food is good when served. We taste to make the dish is right. Customers and guests should have the pleasure of enjoying the whole dish and if they do, it’s the best compliment and satisfaction to any chef. Ironically, people who cook usually loose their appetite in the process and takes about two hours later before they feel hungry again. Till then we will see what is leftover in order to decide for ourselves whether or not to eat our own dishes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do U Get the MSG?(Message)

As a chef, one of those things that irritates me the most when people freak out or cringe when they hear of MSG in cooking. Thanks to the media who always portray half the story of MSG in whatever articles that are published, more often than not the taste enhancer is given the bad publicity than good.
During my apprentice years, a Chinese Masterchef once told me literally "no MSG, no Masterchef". His words speak of wisdom in understanding the skill of using MSG through natural occuring ingredients or as an add on ingredient during cooking process for that taste enhancement effect of the whole dish. I emphasize strongly on the word "Taste Enhancement" because there is a need to clear the air about using MSG for the above purpose and having it as a flavour substitute. To a certain extent, chefs and cooks are also responsible for the bad publicity of MSG due to a lack of knowledge in dealing with the use of this ingredient.First of all, lets look at some facts about MSG:

1) It is not a food poison. US FDA and our AVA approves of its use as a food ingredient
2) It is flavourless and has no aroma
3) Like salt, sugar and fats (oil), anything in excess is not good for your body. So is MSG
4) It has a lower level of sodium that salt

Different people have different tresholds for all kinds of taste, from salty to sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and umami. Can i blame chili as a bad ingredient if I am the kind of person that perspires profusely when my tastebuds are exposed to very spicy cuisine?
A good chef should know the art of creating the balance of taste in culinary artistry. The glutamate properties of MSG in naturally occuring ingredients or powder are able to effect the cause of salivation or mouth watering sensation when we eat such foods. For instance, if u bite into a sun ripen tomato, do u feel the urge to take a second bite because of flavour satisfaction? This urge is caused by the high natural occurence of MSG in tomatoes and in fact they are one the known vegetables with natural high content of MSG. Many chefs and hawkers try to cut corners for profit and laziness reasons. They think that if a little goes a long way, then the more the merrier which results in negative taste perceptions of this taste enhancement ingredient. Like salt and sugar, MSG does have a "saturation" point on our taste buds. Too much of it will cause our salivary glands to secrete excessive saliva thats results us to the point of feeling thirsty, hence the often mentioned Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Good quality ingredients should form the basis of all dishes from the stocks and sauces used. A small dosage of MSG provides the dish with the essential amount of glutamates to the point of tickling our tastebuds with a gentle perception of savouriness and mouth watering effects. That is the proper way of using MSG in cooking so that it does not exceeds the excessive amounts that turns it into a negative effect on the palate. Sadly, many chefs/hawkers have yet to understand this fact or just cannot afford to have real quality ingredients in their recipes because of cost constraints caused by other fixed costs of operations like high rentals and labour wages. For example, u are more likely to get a lousy soup stock in mall operated food courts than in a neighbourhood hawkers center due the the difference of rentals that can be as much as a few thousand dollars a month. Below is an extract of a better understanding of the fifth taste Umami and more information of MSG not commonly published in main media.
Umami: The fifth taste
By Julie Cabatit-Alegre
Thursday, February 21, 2008
If it’s not sweet or sour or bitter or salty, what else could it be? Have you heard of umami? It is believed to be the fifth primary element of taste, in addition to the four basic tastes that we were taught in grade school and are familiar with.
A “new taste sensation” is how The Wall Street Journal described it. It is a “universal taste,” says Kumiko Ninomiya, director of the Umami Information Center in Tokyo, Japan. Ninomiya was the guest speaker at the first Umami Symposium in Manila held recently at the Blue Leaf Pavilion in Fort Bonifacio.
The “new taste sensation” was, in fact, identified 100 years ago by Prof. Kikunae Ikeda at the Tokyo Imperial University from experiments he conducted in 1907. He lived for two years in Germany where there were no Japanese restaurants, and it was then he felt the longing for that distinctive taste found in Japanese food.
In his experiments, Ikeda found the distinctive taste present in broth made from kombu, a type of dried seaweed found in traditional Japanese cuisine. From the kombu broth, Ikeda succeeded in extracting crystals of glutamic acid or glutamate, an amino acid, which is the building block of protein. He found that glutamate had a distinctive taste, which was different from sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. He called it umami, the Japanese term for deliciousness.
“But umami is not the same as deliciousness, although umami is part of deliciousness,” Ninomiya explains. The tasting sessions at the symposium resulted in a lively exchange among the participants, mostly food scientists and nutritionists, university professors and researchers, as well as chefs and foodies on what exactly is umami. The participants tasted dashi, which was prepared by a Japanese chef. Dashi is a clear broth, which is essential in Japanese cooking. It uses kombu as well as dried flakes from bonito, a naturally salty-tasting deep-water type of fish. Earlier, upon entering the symposium venue, the participants also took part in a taste test where they were made to sample two small bowls of tinola soup, and rate each one according to a set of questions provided. One of the bowls was umami.
The “um” factor is how culinary specialist Nancy Reyes, of the family of the iconic Aristocrat Restaurant, referred to it in her talk. “It is found all over the Filipino menu,” she says, “in adobo, sinigang, sisig, nilaga, and, of course, tinola.”
Condiments and dipping sauces are indispensable on a Filipino table, Nancy observes, and our own fish sauce or patis has been called “umami in a bottle.” Tomato is the most common ingredient used for umami. Nancy recalled how her grandmother, the venerable Aling Asyang, used to deputize her grandchildren to pick through large baskets of ripe tomatoes, choosing the ones at the peak of ripeness to be used in ginisa or the Spanish sofrito for sautéeing meat or vegetable with garlic, onion, and tomatoes in oil. “The overripe tomatoes are even more flavorful. They require shorter cooking time for the glutamates to be released,” Nancy explains.
“Adobo tastes better a day after it is cooked, when the glutamate is released and you get a rounded flavor that is umami,” she adds.
To enhance umami in cooking, Nancy shares the following techniques: Use heat to release the glutamate; through fermentation to produce glutamate acid (e.g. buro); add acids and pickle solution (i.e. sugar, vinegar); add onion, coconut milk and tomatoes; add MSG (monosodium glutamate).
MSG is said to be one of the most extensively researched food substances. On the question of safety when used as a flavor enhancer, Dr. Josefa Eusebio, president of the Philippine Glutamate Association and professor at UP-Los Baños, has this to say: “The body does not distinguish the source of glutamate, whether natural or manufactured. It is utilized by the cells in the small intestines. It is rapidly metabolized and 90 percent is used as energy. It does not accumulate in the blood stream. It is not toxic. There is no truth to the rumor that dogs die when burglars feed them MSG.”
Glutamate is found in mother’s milk, 10 times more than in cow’s milk. It is found in all protein-containing foods. Fermented foods are also rich in glutamate. In addition to glutamate, two other substances, which are important taste elements in natural foods — inosinate from dried bonito and guanylate from dried shiitake mushrooms — have also been identified.
Umami has been described as meaty or brothy. Parmesan cheese is said to be one of the most glutamate-rich foods, while mushrooms, particularly shiitake mushrooms, contain both glutamate and guanylate. Anything alive in the ocean is high in glutamate, and this includes seafood as well as sea plants, such as seaweed. The fermentation process in making fish sauce as well as soy sauce breaks down proteins, releasing flavorful glutamate.
The umami taste eliminates the need to use salt or oil and enables us to eat healthy. Our tongue acts as a barometer for taking in necessary nutrients. “You should try to be taste-conscious,” Ninomiya remarks. “Tasting is believing.”
Monosodium Glutamate (Extract from Food Product Design)
Many experts say that MSG should be looked at carefully assuming that its use is within the acceptable parameters. In other words, the designer must be sure its use is permissible with any label or marketing claims.
As with salt, MSG derived from naturally fermented sources has been used for centuries to improve the acceptance of Asian foods. In 1908, when extracting the glutamic acid salts from sea tangle, a type of seaweed, Kikunae Ikeda, Ph.D., called the flavor contribution "umami." Still under extensive study to elucidate the sensory mechanisms, it presents an interesting sensory, product development and public relations challenge. According to Franny Hildabrand, manager of technical services, technical products for Integrated Ingredients, Bartlesville, OK, it is the combination of taste and feeling factors that contribute to the gustatory experience. (For an extensive discussion, see Umami: a Basic Taste edited by Kawamura and Kate.)
MSG has been surrounded with negative publicity linking it with a number of adverse physical effects including headaches, dizziness and chest pain, popularized as the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." Because of the lack of scientific consensus on these effects, in 1995 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contracted the Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO) of the Federation of American Studies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to analyze the safety issues related to the consumption of MSG and other food sources of glutamate based on the available scientific literature.
The Expert Panel convened by LSRO/FASEB concluded that the oral ingestion of more than 3 grams of monosodium glutamate in the absence of food can cause a sensitive subgroup of the general population to respond "generally within one hour of exposure, with manifestations of the MSG symptom complex" (their term for what has been called the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome"). The report also indicated that certain asthmatics may experience bronchospasms, or difficulty breathing, after ingesting MSG in doses equal to or greater than 2.5 grams.
However, the Expert Panel also concluded that to date, no scientifically valid studies have been performed to confirm the existence of any of the hypothetical mechanisms that underlie adverse responses to MSG. They also stated that "no evidence exists to support the ability of orally ingested glutamate to produce neurotoxic or lesioning effects in humans." The panel could find no links to Alzheimer's or any other long-term or chronic disease. This has led the FDA to reaffirm that MSG and related substances should be considered safe ingredients "for most people when eaten at customary levels," according to an FDA position paper. FDA has also said that "we believe there is no connection between MSG and asthma."
Aileen Peters, vice president, public affairs, Ajinomoto USA, Teaneck, NJ, doesn't see the report as negative for MSG: "FDA concluded that MSG is safe for consumption for the general public. The FASEB report suggested further study because there was support for the concept that 3 grams on an empty stomach might cause some small portion of the population to have a reaction. The other question mark was a potential link between MSG and asthma Since that time the FDA has reviewed the data and come out very strongly saying they did not concur. The science on asthma is pretty conclusive."
Peters also notes that yet another study is underway at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, CA, that is expected to provide more evidence. She expects results of this study to be released in March.
Because the data indicate that some portion of the population may experience a reaction to MSG, the FDA has advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that may affect labeling requirements for foods containing free glutamates. It would require the labeling of foods containing more than 200 mg of glutamate per serving from any source. The reader is referred to the Federal Register, Vol. 61, No. 178, September 12, 1996 for more details. No final rules have been issued as of this writing.
Currently the FDA requires that when MSG is added to food, it must appear only in the ingredient legend. However, products labeled "no MSG" or "no added MSG" must not contain any ingredients that are considered sources of free glutamates such as hydrolyzed protein.
Peters notes that the industry is continuing consumer information programs "rather aggressively because the American public was not very well informed on what MSG was and why it was used. You avoid a problem by informing consumers in advance. You simply can't scare consumers if they know that the volume of science is behind MSG's safe use."
Monosodium glutamate is a powerful tool and, if within the agreed upon boundaries of acceptable solutions, should be considered a key test variable. However, if MSG can't be used to enhance flavor, what are the alternative choices? Product developers can turn to a variety of hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, yeast extracts, and 5' Prime nucleotides. However, the use of these ingredients may also be affected by consumer concerns regarding glutamates and FDA rulings on labeling.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

City of Bohemian Crystal and Music

On a recent assignment to Prague, Czech Republic, representing the Singapore Chefs Association, I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to meet the who’s who of the chefs profession in Continental Europe. I am not talking about the Michelin starred restaurant chefs who work in big fancy restaurants, but people who have made many sacrifices of the their private time and energy to proactively promote the chefs profession beyond their normal routines of work. For the less informed, in the world of the chef’s profession, there is supposedly at least one State government recognised chefs’ association or guild in every country all over the world. Each country is represented through their own chefs’ association in the mother of all chefs’ societies known globally as the World Association of Chefs’ Societies (WACS). Like the UN, WACS brings all the chefs around the world together in its activities and its representation is classified to different continents around the globe.
I was in Prague at the invitation of the current WACS Presidium with a fellow colleague as Team Singapore making our pitch for the Lion City’s bid to the running of the next presidium. One of the hardest thing things to adjust in business travel is jetlag where your body’s routine is upset by the different time zones. Still I would like to share everyone here pictures of the opening dinner prepared by the President of the Czech Republic’s Chef Association and his team of chefs for the 30+ of us in this conference representing more than 20 countries in Europe. Dinner was hosted at the Zlata Praha Restaurant, Hotel Intercontinental , Prague.

Here are some of the items on the Menu:

Insalata Caprese,Cesear Salad with Chicken,Cobb Salad with 1000 Island Dressing
Italian Seafood Salad with Lemon Olive Oil Dressing

Main Courses:

Roast Pork Loin with Thyme Gravy, Confit of Lamb Shanks, Pilaf Rice, Buttered Vegetables, Oven Baked Fillet of Salmon on Green Pea Mash, Roasted Potatoes

From the dessert table of assorted pastries:

Btw did I mentioned that dinner ended@ 6am SG time for me......Yawn!