&SONS Bacaro sous chef Andrea De Paola will be similarly cooking outside the box with their lush version of the macaroni and cheese, made with lobster.
Food lovers here have revelled in Savour’s balanced homage to top local and international chefs. But this year’s line-up of featured chefs and restaurants for the gourmet festival’s fourth instalment has surprised even the most ardent advocate of Singapore’s dining scene. The roster serves up 12 Singapore chefs, but only four visiting toques (including one familiar face from Hong Kong, Alvin Leong of three-Michelin star restaurant, Bo Innovation).
This is quite a contrast to last year’s showing of eight visiting chefs and 10 local representatives. Organisers, however, are confident that this is apt.
“In line with SG50, we decided to emphasise on local talent and locally-based establishments and create more opportunities for them to shine,” said Darren Chen, executive director of Savour Events, the organiser of the festival. “At the end of the day, Savour is about celebrating all that is delicious.”
Chen added that local establishments were given first right of refusal. “This year, we reversed the recruitment procedure … and the response was overwhelming,” he said. “Eventually, we had to carve out space to include the overseas restaurants. Of course, aside from only restaurants at Savour, there are more local chefs involved in various other ways, such as conducting Celebrity Chef Masterclasses and hands-on cooking demonstrations.
“Overall, we want to create sufficient touch points between our local talent and the local consumer — only then can we truly appreciate their contribution to our nation’s identity through their culinary interpretations.”
This might turn out to be a rewarding decision. Singapore’s fast-maturing dining scene does offer a lot to choose from. Even the most adventurous diner will find it hard to keep up with the latest and trendiest hitting the market, let alone find time to revisit some of their favourite stalwarts.
However, do not expect to find a permeating ode to local flavours this year. Hot new mod-Singapore cuisine exponent Han Liguang of Labyrinth, as well as popular Peranakan chef Malcolm Lee will only be presenting masterclasses. While TODAY understands that 85 per cent of the dishes featured will be unique to the event or specially created for it, there is not a booth featuring an establishment that specialises in the reinterpretation of uniquely Singapore flavours.
No doubt, Singapore’s culinary scene is not only about heritage foods, and that, asserted Artichoke’s Bjorn Shen, is perfectly fine.
“I don’t think local chefs necessarily need to cook Singaporean cuisine. In fact, most local chefs I know (apart from hawkers) are chefs of French, Italian, Japanese and other international cuisines,” he said. “However, if someone is keen to step up and create a unique Singaporean cuisine, I’m all for it. There are people doing it, such as Han from Labyrinth, and I think he’s doing a great job.” Han will only be able to confirm his presenting dish next week, but said it will probably focus on “modern execution of spices we can find anywhere in Singapore”.
However, Shen added that there is also a lot to be said about championing one’s own unique creation, much like what he does at his restaurant.
“We have never seen ourselves, nor do we want people to see us, as a Middle Eastern restaurant with such-and-such dishes. We’ve always seen ourselves as a bastion of creativity and independent thought; this approach pervades our menu. We cook whatever (we want), whenever we feel like it; and we change it up as and when. We are always coming up with new, original creations. Local chefs, or any chef for that matter, should stand behind their stuff.”
Shen will be presenting two dishes: One is an upmarket option under his flagship Artichoke restaurant that is a hand-blended mix of buffalo mozzarella and goat feta on charred toast served with a “banging” tomato salad, dressed in relish of basil that uses herbs grown on a rooftop farm in Singapore. The other is a more accessible “down and dirty street-inspired” creation that he described as a Thai-style chicken skin sundae, complete with salted palm sugar caramel, sweet corn and chicken skin crackling, under his newest brand, Bird Bird. This dish, he said, was inspired by his love for dipping McDonald’s chicken nuggets into its hot fudge sundae.
Chiming in on the idea of local representation, Huang Ming Tan of Park Bench Deli (which will be opening its first permanent deli in the central business district this year) added that he is not reinventing the wheel, just putting a spin on a few classics, such as a crusty peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“If you really had to think about it from a local perspective, I’d say as far as sandwiches go, the version of the muffaletta (traditionally stuffed with Italian charcuterie and a spicy creole olive salad) that we want to make reflects local taste-buds, with very robust flavours and textures,” he said.
Menus have not yet been released, but Chen confirmed that highlights from the local contingent will include pan-fried foie gras with banana textures, Madagascar vanilla and Jamaican rum by Douglas Tay from Osia; local Italian stalwart Beppe De Vito together with &SONS Bacaro sous chef Andrea De Paola will be similarly cooking outside the box with their lush version of the macaroni and cheese, made with lobster.
In spite of the practical limitations, organisers hope the event will represent the best that Singapore has to offer, even if some notable names may not be on the list. “(That’s) mostly due to scheduling,” explained Chen. “Savour is a hefty commitment of four days of hard work, which comes on top of the commitment these chefs’ have to their own businesses, so naturally some are unable to participate in the event.”
Here’s a snapshot of the Chefs at Savour 2014
Photos credit: Florence Neo @ flofoodventure.wordpress.com