Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sushi Suicides

A conversation with my friend Yvonne about "seppuku worthy" sushi (as she put it) reminded me of these pages from Anthony Bourdain's Get Jiro. Released this summer by DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, the chef’s first foray into the graphic novel genre is a playful collaboration with writer Joel Rose and artist Langdon Foss together with José Villarrubia.

Synopsis: In a not-too-distant future Los Angeles where master chefs rule the town like crime lords and people literally kill for a table at the best restaurants, a bloody culinary war is raging.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Culinary P-p-paparazzi

This month's column of Esquire is something most of you can relate to. The love/hate relationship chefs have with obsessive food camwhores. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Word Abuse — VARIETY vs VARIETAL [Guest Post]

Here are some pro-tips in wine speak by my favorite Singaporean Wine Writer, Kenny Leong.  Visit his site at The Word Count. (original post here)

by Kenny Leong

In my years of reading magazines and materials and speaking with writers, PR professionals, wine dealers, bloggers, educators, and virtually everyone who has anything and everything to do with food and wine, I've come to the conclusion that the two most abused and misused terms in our field are:

1) Molecular gastronomy
2) Varietal wine/grape

It's funny, because these are people (instead of your pedestrian "foodies") that you'd think might actually understand the words they're using.

I'll save "molecular" for another day, since that's a bit more complicated than "varietal", and I'm a bit, uh, nervous about the looming deadlines this week.

The second is much easier to understand. A lot of people say "varietal" when they mean "variety", and rather surprisingly, even people who've been in the wine industry for many years still make that mistake.

First, we need to understand that:
Variety → noun
Varietal → adjective

A variety is a thing, an object, whereas "varietal" describes a thing or object, such as a bottle of wine. In other words, in common wine terms, a variety refers to the grape, while a varietal is a contraction of "varietal wine", meaning a wine that's made from a single (or from a dominant) grape variety.

Variety → Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Riesling, etc.
Varietal wine → Chateau Whatchamacallit Pinot Noir, Domaine Whathisname Riesling, etc.

So if you're referring to the botanical variety (there!) or cultivar of the grape, it's "variety". And if you're referring to a wine made from a single grape variety, it's "varietal wine" or "varietal" for short.

Friday, March 28, 2014

World Gourmet Summit: Chef Kenny Fu

This year's World Gourmet Summit in Singapore is showcasing only two chefs who specialize in Chinese cuisine, among a long list of other chefs who are presenting Western menus.  Chef Kenny Fu from Beijing's My Humble House is one of them.  He is serving a special menu for lunch and dinner at Singapore's Tunglok Signatures until Sunday 30 March.  Make your reservations here.  See the full menu here.

(Translation from Chinese:
My recommended dishes include today's first course of BBQ Fois Gras with Raspberry Macaron Sauce, Steamed Cod Fillet with special Taiwanese fermented soybeans, and my signature Zhajiang Noodles.)

Celebrity Chef Kenny Fu is not just the face of modern cuisine in China, he is also a chef for celebrities. Personalities like Jay Chou and Christy Chung have dined at Chef Fu's table. Striving for innovation, Chef Fu constantly challenges the boundaries of Chinese cooking and frequently travels to understand how modern cuisine is interpreted globally. A familiar face on TV, Chef Fu is a regular on Chinese television programmes. He recently defeated Michelin starred Chef Jean Jacques from France and Enrico Bartolini from Italy in a CCTV-televised chef competition. Chef Fu is currently Cuisine Consultant to My Humble House in Beijing, China.

Here are my favorites from the lunch menu.

Steamed Cod with Taiwan’s Fermented Soybean at 85℃

These beans are specially from Taiwan, lending a lovely smoky note to the marinade.

Quick-fried Australia Beef Cubes with Golden Garlic, Dried Chili, Sichuan Peppercorn

On first bite, I found the dish rather ordinary. But as I went through, taking mouthfuls of each of the ingredients into one bite, the textures and flavors came together in an addictive way. The fried dried chilis were particularly delectable with each crunch.

Chef Kenny’s Signature Zhajiang Noodle

If there's only one dish you can try on Chef Kenny's menu, it should be this dish. Only 20 servings are available per day at his restaurant in Beijing. The noodles are painstakingly handmade by Kenny Fu himself every day. Over lunch, he quipped, "Two of my cooks who were in charge of preparing these noodles quit on me, because of the laborious work it required every single day. These take a lot of energy to make."  The black bean sauce itself requires an additional 4 hours to prepare.  The long hours are well worth it though, because I am far from the only diner who gurgled moans of approval as we ate through the dish.  Chinese celebrities such as actress Zhang Ziyi has often claimed this to be one of her favorite dishes in the city.

Jasmine-flavoured Valrhona Chocolate Mousse

This splendid ruby sphere garnered a few gasps of delight.  A simple concept, but no less a joy as we cracked through the candied shell to reveal the luxurious Valrhona Chocolate Mousse that lay within.  Each of these spheres require an hour each to prepare. Similar to glass blowing, the candied substance requires careful execution from handling to timing to temperature control as it is blown into shape.


Make your reservations here.  See the full menu here.

TungLok Signatures – Taste of Tradition
Orchard Parade Hotel #02-18
1 Tanglin Road Singapore 247905
Tel: +(65) 6834 0660

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How F&B Tycoons Stay Lean: VibroGym

location: Lifestyle Fitness, Sheraton Towers
photography by Adam Tun-Aung, unless stated otherwise

Fitness and Losing Weight in Singapore

Currently, I'm feeling pretty good.

There was something I noticed as I began my training over the weeks with Alvin.  Many of his regular clients I'd often see are doctors and food/drink industry related CEOs.  It seems, Lifestyle Fitness is where they come to stay lean despite their work.

So, you've heard that I've been getting healthier and more active again (read: Getting in Shape as a Food Writer).  It's been a while now, and I'm happy to report a good level of maintenance going on so far.  There were weeks where I'd drop so much weight with nice defined abs to match, but then it would balloon back again the moment I stopped my unrealistic Spartan routine.  I've learned a lot about my body over the past year.

But what's a fitness post without "Before" Photos?

Here's a photo I took with #LiveFitter at the beginning of my journey. 
(photo by Soon Tong, Calibre Pics)

What's funny is how difficult it was to find any full length shots. I didn't really want to see myself, so I never saved any photos.

A work in progress

They say "Abs are made in the kitchen," as in getting lean is 80% about your diet, and 20% about your fitness.  But when you're training someone who's in the food business, it's hard to dictate what s/he should and shouldn't eat....  Alvin Tan of Lifestyle Fitness offers a customized nutritional program for each of his clients, as well as a private chef on staff that can prepare your meals for you daily.

However, my "challenge" was about making progress without restricting my diet too much.  My work simply doesn't allow for too much restriction all the time.  In fact, Alvin wanted to help prove that abs can also be made in the gym.

Alvin put me on a VibroGym training program. VibroGym contracts your muscles 30-40 times per second.  In just 4 minutes, you will achieve 8000 - 9000 muscles contractions, meaning your workout is accelerated (doing more in less time). VibroGym generates vibrations that are transferred to your body.  Technically, within 10 minutes, you can complete effective training of your entire body since Vibro Training stimulates the whole muscular system at once and not one muscle after another.  But despite that, Alvin made sure I never do anything short of an hour a day.

This technology is similar, but much more advanced than the popular PowerPlates programs.  PowerPlates machines are now constructed in China, using older technology with slower and wider vibrations that might be potentially damaging to your body with prolonged excessive use. VibroGym equipment, which is only built in the Netherlands, enables upward and cleaner vibrations throughout your muscular system.

Alvin Tan is one of the leading trainers in vibration training in Asia, specializing in specific weight loss programs and injury rehabilitation. The professionally certified fitness coach, therapist and nutritionist comes from 17 years of experience in the fitness industry. 

Your average sit-up or plank suddenly becomes 5xs more intense.  The machine looks harmless, but I dare you to try.

VibroGym also helps with flexibility.  I've seen skeptics who couldn't touch their toes get on the machine, and within 60 seconds (no exaggeration), their palms were to the floor. The vibrations of the device cause stretch reflexes in tensed muscles.

Effects of VibroGym training:
Reduction in high blood pressure
Reduction on pain & fatigue
Reduction in cellulite
Burns Fat Effectively

Increase in flexibility
Increase in Metabolic rate
Increase in muscular strength, endurance, power, and size
Improvement in joint stability

Proof is in the pudding, and the journey isn't even over yet.
Contact exclusive professional trainer and nutritionist Alvin Tan of Lifestyle Fitness at Sheraton Towers, Singapore for an appointment—mention Gastronommy.   

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014

Just announced live a few hours ago, here are this year's winners for the 2014 Asia's 50 Best Restaurants
top no. 1-10 here

More about this weekend's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants coming soon...

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Story (Häagen-Dazs)

Dear Häagen-Dazs,
Thank you for this surprise box of goodies made for two!  My Valentine's Day date (Mister Tofu) and I will be enjoying it immensely. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Slippery Business: Fake Olive Oil

Olive oil, our favorite Mediterranean produce since the golden days of ancient Greece.  Here's the truth of olive oil, along with some tips on how to buy and store it.

Did you know that most generic extra virgin olive oil brands are counterfeit?  It's mind blowing how little regulation there is on verified olive oil, and in fact, it's extremely difficult even for professionals to detect the real versus fake stuff.  
In July 2013 issue of Esquire Singapore, I wrote a bit about the subject matter.  

Two tablespoons of olive oil a day, they say, keeps the doctor away with its rich antioxidant contents and effectiveness in fighting diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. It’s the health advocate’s savior from the fatty, sweet alternative of butter. It’s food, fuel, skin lotion, pesticide, medicine, and a preservative rolled into one — there’s nothing olive oil can’t do! But what if I told you that the olive oil you’ve been consuming is counterfeit? Even the fancy boutique extra virgin stuff.

People have been duped since the sixteenth century, when olive oil was imported to northern Europe and frequently mixed with cheaper cottonseed or rapeseed oil. In modern times, fake extra virgin olive oil claims really came to light only in 2008, when the Italian government cracked down hard on over 90 farms in the country.
Over the past 5 years, research has revealed that nearly 70 percent of imported products labeled as extra virgin olive oil, did not meet the extra virgin standards.
This all sounds like a media-concocted conspiracy against the industry, doesn’t it? But with olive oil being so commonplace in our households, this recent attention has even led to the release of a lengthy investigative book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller. In it, he reveals that just like old times, many producers today pass off their oils by mixing it with other types, such as canola oil or lower grade olive oil. The in-depth information the book provides is hard to pass off as a hoax.

Comparable to the power of oil sheiks today, “olive oil was the source of fabulous wealth and power in ancient Rome,” describes Roman archaeology Professor David Mattingly. Naturally, valuable substances tend to attract fraudsters. In Italy today, mafia syndicates mostly dominate the corrupt trade of olive oil imported from Spain, Italy, and Greece. Quality checks are carelessly skipped by familiar multinational brands such as Bertolli, who don’t produce the oil themselves, but rather buy and sell from others. Some estimates say the profits are comparable to cocaine trafficking and clearly much easier to get away with. You can say it’s a slippery business.

The question as you, the consumer wants to know, is how do we avoid the phonies? Countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have established new food fraud centers and more stringent enforcement against these agricultural adulterators. Sadly though, it is otherwise difficult to differentiate the good from the bad without rigorous chemical and taste testing.
Even the processors and “experts” can’t always tell by taste alone. 
A blind tasting was conducted a few years ago consisting of a panel of an importer, an Italian deli owner, and well-regarded foodies. The results were so embarrassing, they were never published until Mueller’s book came out last year. Reportedly by the Guardian newspaper, “the importer went into a fugue after he was informed that he’d pronounced his own premium product ‘disgusting’; the deli owner chose a bottle of highly dubious ‘Italian extra virgin’ as his favourite (£1.99 from a discount store); and both the foodies gave a thumbs-up to Unilever’s much-derided Bertolli brand.”

Though not always a guarantee of quality, there are a number of Things you should look out for when selecting your extra virgin olive oil:

There are six grades of olive oil: extra virgin, virgin, refined olive oil, olive oil, olive-pomace oil, crude olive-pomace, and refined olive-pomace. The Extra Virgin label exists as the top grade because it is natural crushed half-ripened olive juice unaltered by chemicals, solvents or heat. This means extra virgin oil is made by a physical process –- and like any fresh product, extra virgin olive oil deteriorates over time. But neither the International Olive Council nor the USDA enforces these standards, so it becomes a matter of honest labeling. Yes, you can bet your toga that many virgin olive oils are being mislabeled as extra virgin.

Fresh is best when buying; pure extra virgin olive oil will start to go bad after three months. Extra virgins are fruity, bitter, peppery, and pungent tasting, since they are processed through a centrifuge to prevent degradation of aromatics and healthy antioxidants. A good olive oil should feel crisp, not coarse and greasy. Avoid oils that smell of metallic or cooked undertones.

Look out for labels. Notice “best by” dates and harvested dates. You want to find “best by” dates that indicate two years after the oil was bottled. Ensure the label says “extra virgin” and not alternative words such as “pure” or “light”. Terms like “cold-pressed” and “first-pressed” are usually a marketing gimmick, since true extra virgins come from the first processing of the olive paste via centrifuge. Descriptions such as organically grown and certified by state and national olive associations are always a plus.

Paying more for extra virgins isn’t an insurance of quality either, but given how pricey it is to produce the oil, you can be certain that inexpensive or discounted extra virgin olive oil is not pure. If possible, cut out the middleman and buy as close to the miller or farmer as possible. Buy from a local farmer you know and trust (olive oil producing countries also include the United States and Australia).

How to use and store your olive oil:

The darker and smaller the container of your olive oil, the better. You’ll want to use the oil quickly and store it away from oxygen in a dark cool place or else it will quickly go rancid.

Extra virgin oil is the top grade, but because of its robust and full flavors, sometimes lower quality refined oil will be more economical for things like deep-frying. Alternatively, look for late harvest extra virgin oil, when the flavors are milder for frying or cooking delicate flavors such as white fish and chicken. Early harvest extra virgins are more full-bodied in flavor, making a great accompaniment to bruschetta, red meats, ice-cream (before you balk, try the olive oil ice cream at Osteria Mozza), or vegetables like arugula.

Also, the refrigerator test is a myth. The claim is that unadulterated extra virgins will become thick and cloudy as it cools completely. This test is not an assurance of quality and you’ll likely just cut the shelf life of your precious in half by storing it as such.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Javier de las Muelas visits Singapore

Javier de las Muelas at Four Seasons Singapore's One-Ninety Bar

Here in Singapore from Barcelona, Javier de las Muelas is considered one of the world's best cocktail masters.  He is founder of Spain's cocktail bar Gimlet and owner of the world-renowned Dry Martini.  He's recently partnered up with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts as a gastronomy consultant, making his mark with the relaunch of Four Seasons Singapore's One-Ninety Bar.  (read more about the modern luxury hotel in my article for Prestige's Gourmet section Nov 2013)

One-Ninety bar underwent a month of renovations, including a menu restructure that would include Javier's tropical cocktails.  The outdoor Terraza is also one of the few hotel alfresco areas in Singapore that permit smoking.  Terraza now includes an exclusive cigar bar.

Each cocktail is prepared according to a liturgy.  Only the highest quality water is used to create the cocktail's ice, and the collection of Droplets was concocted after three years of formulation, using only natural ingredients. (See video on Droplets, Javier's non-alcoholic aromatics for cocktails)

From 17 February to 30 April 2014, you can receive 20% off your cocktail bill with a maximum redemption credit of $250 nett per transaction (max 8 persons per table).  Meanwhile, Javier is here in Singapore until the end of this coming weekend, so be sure to drop by in order to meet the legend himself!

All photos by Adam Tun-Aung

One-Nintey Bar by Javier de las Muelas
Four Seasons Hotel Singapore 
190 Orchard Boulevard 
Singapore 248646
Tel: +(65) 6831-7671

Hours: 8am - 1am daily
Weekend afternoon tea 2pm - 5pm

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Last chance to try U Factory at Gillman Barracks

This Saturday (today!) and Sunday are the last days to try out U Factory's pop up food concepts at Gillman Barracks. 

Gillman Barracks, one of Singapore's latest destinations for contemporary art.

Food Entrepreneurs Jeremy Nguee (Rakusabā), Karen Cheng (The Travelling C.O.W.) and Ops Manager Muhammad Rizuan (Maison Ikkoku)


Pickled lotus root, pork confit, egg with shrimp paste and a "secret chilli", and salmon otak otak gratin.  The dish should be eaten immediately says the chef, "Stop with the photos!  Hurry and eat!"

Rakusabā photos by UFactory

"Rakusabā" is not exactly a Japanese word, but it's how someone with a heavy Japanese accent might pronounce the word "Laksa" (go ahead, I know you're saying ra-ku-sa-ba aloud in your head).  It's a deconstructed take on Laksa, and food-consultant-turned-chef Jeremy Nguee only makes 20 portions of his dish per meal.  He explains this is mostly because of preparation and on site storage restrictions, but he confides to us mischievously, “Sometimes I like playing the ‘nazi chef’, like the The Soup Nazi in Seinfeld.”  

After my meal, he notes that I hadn't finished my egg.  Whoops.  It was difficult, but I resisting eating everything in order to make space for the other pop-up concepts.  It seems Jeremy had noticed. "I remember every plate," the nazi chef remarks.  The set consists of wheat noodles that are lightly coated with chili, garlic, and ginger to prevent stickiness, and a rich laksa cream dipping sauce eaten tsukemen style.  I'm also particularly taken by the shrimp paste over the half boiled egg and the salmon otak otak  gratin. The salmon otak otak doesn't use flour and instead uses more egg and is then baked, resulting in a fluffier texture with more delicate flavors.  I'm clearly not an otak otak purist.

For closing weekend, Jeremy is preparing 100 bowls of Rakusabā instead of his usual 20.  So nice ah.

The Travelling C.O.W.


The ramen burgers are large and in charge.  It becomes a messy affair once you dig in.

Karen Cheng brings the first food truck concept to Singapore, finally dispelling rumors that food trucks aren't permitted on the island country.  Finding approved spots for food truck businesses are not without their challenges however, so The Travelling C.O.W. also participates in pop-up concepts and private catering. (read more about food trucks in my Esquire Singapore column soon)

The C.O.W. brings popular American concept, the Ramen Burger to Singapore shores.  Honing the recipe to suit Asian palates (including her own), Karen and the chef use ingredients such as their signature Korean bulgolgi in lieu of a traditional beef patty.  At $9 a burger, I'd say that's a pretty darn good deal in these parts.

Maison Ikkoku

Maison Ikkoku is the only concept of the three pop-ups that currently has a permanent restaurant space set up on the island (though The Travelling C.O.W. and Preparazzi do have plans to set up shop later this year too).  Maison Ikkoku has a special focus on coffee, which they offer at UFactory, along with  desserts, a wibby-wobbly eggs benedict, and french toast with sea salt caramel.

After you're finished noshing, you have the option to mosey on next door to the marketplace or UCafe where you can buy cool vintage glasses by Optics Premier or flip through non mainstream magazines that are otherwise somewhat hard to find your typical cafe in Asia (more information here).

For more information visit:

The Travelling C.O.W., Maison Ikkoku, The U Cafe
Gillman Barracks
Block 37, 38 & 39, Malan Road, Singapore 109452
Opening hours: Tue – Sun, 11am-7pm
Rakusabā operates on Saturday from 12pm- 10pm and Sunday from 12pm - 3pm


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