Singapore And The Food Blogger's Irony

It's now the middle of December, 2016, and I haven't blogged in exactly ten months. Why, you ask? Did the Gourmet Male lose his passion for food? Has he gotten lazy? Has he signed a multi-million dollar cookbook contract? Um, yeah, no. Although the last one is.... most certainly not true. In late January of this year I packed up the house and moved to Singapore to take on an incredible new work opportunity and to experience living in Asia for the first time. Now, I know, most people's reactions centres around just how much food there is here in Singapore and why the move didn't improve my blogging. Well, let me explain.

The blog has never been focused on restaurant reviews. I would never feel adequate enough or knowledgeable enough to challenge the food delivered by an experienced chef. There is so much sweat, blood, and passion poured into a restaurant and I think, "Who am I to judge?". When I do visit an amazing restaurant, I make sure to get a post up about it. I've always focused on food experiences, recipes, and travel. And to be honest, it's easy to get caught up here in the hustle and bustle and forget to reflect and share some of the amazing food opportunities in the city where they greet you by asking, "Have you eaten yet?".

To make things worse, I left the kitchen of my dreams in Sydney and have had to make do with the horribly tiny kitchens here in the land of the Merlion. And I mean TINY. I ended up in the best place I could find, with gas and induction burners in an open plan kitchen. You can imagine my disappointment when I was told that I couldn't use the gas burners as they would torch the back laminate. Hmmm, who designs these places? And now I have a full-time, live-in helper so am not doing so much cooking. Suffice to say, the food blogger gods have been working against me. 

So, what have I seen? What have I eaten? What's it really like to live, work, and eat here in Singapore? I'll try to sum things up in five points:

1. You can spend a bomb on food here, if you want

No doubt about it, Singapore has some of the most expensive food in Asia, if not the world. I've been taken to Cut for a $300 steak - and that's before caviar, wine, and dessert. Even one of my favourite places, No Signboard Seafood, can run north of $200/person if you're not careful.

And there's Waku Ghin, Tetsuya's new-ish Michelin starred restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. That'll set you back more than $400/person, ++. Don't ever forget the ++. That's another 17% for GST and service charge.

But if you want to really splurge and eat some amazing food, Singapore has many options to quickly rack up those frequent flier miles on your favourite card.

2. Then again, you can spend an absolute pittance on a great meal

I still can't believe the first hawker centre that I visited over at Maxwell, near Chinatown. $4 for a tasty plate of chicken rice... and that's at "tourist" prices! Tall longnecks of Tiger beer around $6. And no messing around with any ++, either. These are nett prices, and probably only cash. But the options are endless. Just pick a hawker centre close by and go nuts! The old advice to find the longest line for the best options probably still holds. Just get ready to wait.

In my neighbourhood, near Dhoby Ghaut, are many universities, arts schools, and the like. And we all know what students are searching for - cheap eats! One of my local favourites is a Koren BBQ called I Am Kim (underneath School of the Arts). The prices are cheap, the food is good, and it's a great place to bring a crowd of Ang Moh and live it up with Soju Bombs and some K Pop.

3. The mid-level food scene is improving

Even since I've been here there have been new mid-level options crop up as well as increased visibility of some other restaurants that are gaining in popularity. I absolutely love the brunch at Open Door Policy in Tiong Bahru, as well as a bookstore and coffee browse afterward.

If you like BBQ, check out Meatsmith or MeatLIQUOR.

One of my latest finds is a new Aussie restaurant, Cheek By Jowl, over on Boon Tat Street. Catch your breath, people, this lunch for two was $35++/person. Amazing. I went back for dinner and sat at the kitchen stools while chatting with the chef. This will definitely become a regular spot for me, particularly as it's only a 10 min walk from my office.

4. Have food, people will visit

The real food fun in Singapore involves entertaining. I was taught pretty quickly that if you want a group to show up, thrown on a feed. Back in my first few weeks in the country I was lucky enough to meet the guys from Iskina Cebu and made a call then that they HAD to do a full manual lechon for my birthday in July. Let me say, they didn't disappoint and the 30 people that joined us were blown away. It's probably not the best option, though, for a modern communal dining area in your apartment complex. They are indeed adding new rules to the tenant's guide by the day due to my shenanigans.

5. Get up here and eat yourself silly

It's cheap and easy to get here from Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere in Asia. It's the perfect stop-off when coming through Changi in transit (incidentally rated the best airport in the world many years running). It's incredibly safe, easy to get around, and the people are so very friendly. There are food options everywhere. 

I've accepted that it's not about my cooking so much anymore. Really, it's all about food with new friends and enjoying what the local chefs are all about. 

Just prepare yourself for $20 beers. ++.

Bad Ass? Great Chef, Good Guy

When I started this blog five years back, I was just looking for a way to express my love of food, share some of the things I was learning, and find some other like-minded foodies. Since then, I've experienced all that but one thing I didn't expect was that I would discover just how friendly and helpful some of the well known leaders of the food industry truly are. Neil Perry did a guest recipe very, very early on. Mark Hix jumped in recently with a cool chicken recipe. I even discovered a new, young chef from South Africa who simply wanted to share his recipes.

Through everything, the biggest thing I've learned is to simply ask. When you're truly interested in someone's interests and passions, there's a good chance that they will jump in and share (and sometimes help) if you just ask. Back in 2013, I put myself up for auction to help Assistance Dogs Australia and the bids for my services for a day reached $5,000. The winning team threw me a curveball by asking if I'd cook a degustation meal for the thirteen people in the bidding group.

I was developing my menu and one thing I really wanted to do was to make compressed fruit with cream and herbs. Firstly, I hadn't be able to make it before and secondly, I knew the group would have never tasted anything like it. So I put a call out on Twitter - who had a chamber sealer that I could use? To my surprise, one of the chefs who was rising in popularity threw open his restaurant doors and said I could use their equipment. That chef? Colin Fassnidge.

Since that time, Colin and I have followed each other on Twitter. I have seen his partner in crime, Carla, chef at his other restaurant 4fourteen, a couple times at the Omnivore world tour. And I've dropped into the Four in Hand a couple times. Having dinner there recently, I sent a couple tweets about my excitement and then dove into the amazing food. What I never expected was that the waiter brought out dessert, suggested by the chef, as someone was a big "fan". Very cool. So when we finished I made it a point to thank Colin for his hospitality and said hello in the kitchen. On the ride home, I was a few beers down, and had the courage to ask Colin by Twitter if he'd be up to doing an interview for GourmetMale.com. I'd say I was surprised when he said yes, but I really wasn't, given how helpful he'd been before. Now I had to prepare!

The reality is that Colin has been interviewed FAR more times than I've been an interviewer. And, as much as I am always amazed by how many people read the blog, it's pretty small-fries when you compare to coverage for My Kitchen Rules and the like. But I wanted to know about food and I knew there was a lot to learn.

So, tell me about your love of food. What does food mean to you? What gives you the most enjoyment about cooking?

"I got my love of cooking from my family back in Ireland. My dad cooked everything for our family of five. Offal, meats, stews. I knew I wanted to be a chef early on"

You started in Oxford, working for Raymond Blanc. What did you learn early on that has stuck with you until now?

"I began by working for a chef in Dublin. He promised if I stayed there two years that he’d get me work with Raymond Blanc. I learned to taste, taste, and taste again. Home cooks don’t taste enough but they don’t even season enough to begin with. I also learned to clean all the time. Never stop cleaning!"

You moved to Sydney in 1999. How has the food scene changed in Sydney during that time?

"It was so focused on fine dining. I spent time in San Francisco and it was more relaxed and more accessible. About when the Olympics hit in 2000 people started to experiment and do some interesting things.

I was in Paris for Omnivore World Tour a while back and let me tell you, we have some of the best food and restaurants in the world. We are truly world class here in Sydney."

Which food trends do you think are overdone and/or overhyped?

"The reviewers are overhyped. They’re not coming up with anything new. And I’m not about eating ants or witchetty grubs. Just good food. I visited the best restaurant in the world, Noma, and I was so relaxed and loved the experience."

What’s most rewarding about running your two restaurants, Four in Hand, and 4Fourteen?

"I love running my own restaurants. Carla runs 4Fourteen but I love the closed kitchen in Four in Hand – I can swear and carry on! Seriously, I love it that I can do what I want and what I love. I may have hard days but at the end of the day I love what I do."

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at the moment?

"Recently I just did a Hawkesbury squid recipe with some gorgeous onions I sourced locally. It’s the simplest thing but I love that. And that’s a cool dish… that’s until I replace it with another fresh, simple dish."

What annoys you the most about running the restaurants?

"I can’t find good chefs or waiters. Or hardly anyone who can cook, for that matter!"

When you’re home, what do you love to cook the most? What do your family most enjoy?

"I just cooked dinner for my wife and girls before I came in tonight. I cooked soy chicken in a gorgeous broth. It’s not really Irish but I love cooking simple, gorgeous things."

If I was coming to a BBQ at your house, what would be on the menu? 

"Just recently I cooked a couple sheep legs with my mates, stuffed them with herbs, and placed them on a few bricks on the BBQ. I let them slow roast over a low flame for hours."

What are some indispensable skills that guys should have in the kitchen?

"Learn how to cook a good roast! There’s simply no excuse for not learning how to cook well with all the information available in books, TV, and the internet. Shows like Masterchef, which are done well. Seriously, it’s not just a woman’s job to cook well in the kitchen."

You’re a big proponent of good nose-to-tail cooking. What’s one overlooked ingredient that people should learn how to use in the kitchen?

"Liver and onions. Cook a couple ham hocks and then turn them into pea and ham soup. You don’t have to go too exotic but even tripe can be good."

What is your recommendation on the must-have kitchen tool? And do you have a favourite cookbook to recommend (other than your own, obviously)?

"Get a couple great knives and keep them super sharp. A chef’s cooking knife and a chopping knife. Also, make sure you get a Microplane. It’s indispensable. For good cookbooks, anything by Andrew McConnell. I also love Jason Atherton’s book, Maze. I still refer to that book now and then."

What are the qualities of a perfect date restaurant and meal? Do you have any old favourites for special occasions like anniversaries?

"Nothing particular. But I’m going to Attica soon with my wife and I’m really looking forward to that. I know Ben well and he does simply amazing things. He’s in a league by himself."

I have one personal question. You’re an ambassador/fund raiser for FTW, which is focused in youth suicide prevention. I lost my brother to suicide at 25. What makes you passionate about the cause?

"I’ve lost people close to me, friends, a cousin and others. It’s an epidemic. And I have given my time to help the Aussie farmers affected by drought. You can’t believe how hard those guys have it and where it brings them when they can’t make a living from their farms.

The food industry also draws people who may be at risk, either through their upbringing or drugs. It’s great for young kids to come in, work well, show discipline, and learn the industry. It can make a difference in their lives."

What was it like to produce a cookbook (Four Kitchens)?

"It was hard. I had to dust off all my little recipe books, some all the way back from my time with Raymond Blanc. They had dirt, chocolate, and wine all over them! And recipes require precision. There was a lot of testing and learning and refinement. But the content was all about what I cook for friends and family. My favourite part was spending the ten days taking photos of all the dishes. The photos were beautiful."

What’s the final tip you could give guys who want to cook better?

"Eat out! Buy the cheapest ingredients, practice, and make mistakes! You won’t learn how to fillet a fish from a book, you’re only going to learn by doing it on your own, messing up, and trying again. The interesting thing about my book is that it gave me the opportunity to rectify small mistakes in my recipes. Trial and error. Just get cooking!"

 

 

There you go. Just get cooking! I think that's the thing I really took away from my chat with Colin - it doesn't have to be flash or fancy, it just has to be good. Season, taste, clean, repeat.

Many thanks to Colin for his time and to the Four in Hand for hosting me. If you haven't dropped in for dinner, you must! Grab the bone marrow and crab with sorrel leaves - trust me.

Four in Hand Hotel

105 Sutherland Street
Paddington NSW 2021

(02) 9362 1999
restaurant@fourinhand.com.au

My Kitchen Rules

Mon - Thurs, 7:30pm
Channel 7

Four Kitchens Cookbook

ISBN: 9780857982346
Published: 03/03/2014
Extent: 240 pages

FTW (representing Suicide Prevention Australia)