Friday, December 2, 2016

When being called a celebrity or influencer is insulting

The truth about Michelin. Or rather, here's an opinion I share with Marco (video above). The guide has changed a lot in the past decade and is no longer what it once was. Perhaps it was as a result of globalization and increasingly loosening standards as Michelin became a business instead of a symbol.

But more about today's thoughts: I disagree with his statement about not being a celebrity chef. 
He is a celebrity. 

Yet, I completely understand what he means – that he doesn't identify with it and all the usual 'celebrity chefs' qualities that give the title a reputation he doesn't want to be associated with. He has actual life skills that brought him to celebrity. I feel the same way about the influencer/blogger label and I often protest the title as well.

Lingyi Xiong, the writer, producer, and creator of Singapore's highest viewed YouTube channel, Wah!Banana has less than 5,000 followers on her personal instagram account (currently). She jokes about the times when fans ask her to hold the camera and help take photos of some of the other YouTube actors. Still, she is the essence of the channel and the brains behind the operation.

I don't think she would get miffed by being called a celebrity, influencer, or Youtuber. But one day when she has hundreds of thousands of followers on her personal accounts... and folks reduce the popularity of her work down to taking cute photos on Instagram, I somehow doubt she'd appreciate that.

Moreso, it's amateur to believe number of followers equates actual influence or is a measure of a brand or person's success, intelligence, or skill in anything besides posting clickbait. Viewership or followers is an important metric, but there's so much more to it (related post: I'm the worst digital influencer)

There are a lot of us who take pride in our work, that there's a certain skill and expertise we've honed over the years, a decade for me; and decades for someone like Marco. (I am not saying we are on the same level, but the heart is the same) He is an internationally renowned chef, but his celebrity is as a result of his actual cooking prowess and a passion he's able to so acutely articulate.

When he's thrown into the bucket label of 'celebrity chef', I imagine he's not impressed by the association with men who made it because they are great on television, men who sought the fame for the cameras and not the craft of culinaire.

Still to this day, I grit my teeth a bit every time someone calls me a blogger. I know there isn't any insult intended behind the label, it's simply a title I don't relate to.

With the celebrity chef, l'enfant terrible, Marco Pierre White.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Moderator at Singapore Writers Festival

I'll be Moderating a panel discussion this Thursday evening at Singapore Writers Festival 2016.  

You can view the event info here if you'd like to attend: 

November 10, 2016
Venue: The Arts House, Chamber
The Hipster Invasion of the Food Scene
Laksa served in mess tins, kale pandan smoothies in artisanal mason jars and spam fries on recycled wood plates with a side of deconstructed condiments. Shop designs and menus cater to the young and affluent, and gentrification has made its way to old estates and HDB heartlands. Is the hipster invasion of the Singapore food scene here to stay? Does this signal the beginning of the demise of traditional hawker culture? Has our relationship with food changed?
Moderator: Victoria Cheng
Participants: Constance Singam, Prashant Somosundram, Christopher Tan

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guide to Chinese Teas

An article and Podcast by Victoria Cheng for Momentum magazine (Article & Podcast Here)
All images by Kenny Leong of

According to the Chinese, there are 7 necessities to daily life: firewood ( chái), rice ( mĭ), oil ( yóu), salt (yán), sauce ( jiàng), vinegar ( cù), tea ( chá). Tea, not water, was listed as one of the essentials.

Surprisingly, tea doesn't trend in the media the way coffee or wine does out in Asia, where the plant is native. But in certain parts of America, especially New York and San Francisco, tea is being realized as a product with a lot of complexity. Considerations like terroir, aroma, oxidation, astringency, processing, and other geeky things about tea are becoming increasingly popular. 

For example, 3-Michelin starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City has a tea sommelier who presents a tea-pairing menu.  London, arguably the only Western city which tea is deeply integrated into the culture, has a number of restaurants that are paying more attention to elaborate tea services as well.

Notably in Singapore, one-Michelin starred American Steakhouse restaurant, CUT, offers a range of 22 types of tea, 12 of which are Chinese. Two-Michelin starred restaurant, Odette, offers a carefully curated selection of teas from various parts of China, Taiwan, and Japan to accompany Chef Julian Royer's exquisite modern French menu.

I sought further tea advice from my longtime friend, Mr. Kenny Leong of—he happens to be the tea expert who consulted on Odette's tea pairing menu. He served us an elegant fenghuang dancong tea from Chaozhou in a richly colored bowl-like vessel. It was only at the end of our tea session that he revealed that the glazed vessel I was drinking from was a tenmoku, a rare type of  Jian ware ceramics that were favored by the ancient Song dynasty emperors. They're prized and extremely valuable, whereupon I stopped touching it immediately.

Prized, golden glazed tenmoku vessels

Tea Origins
It’s the Godfather of sophisticated beverages

The tea plant is assumed to be indigenous to southwest China, and consumption began as early as the second century, where archaeologists have found a jar of tea leaves in a Han Dynasty tomb.

The earliest reference to tea-drinking was first found in Sanguozhi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) from 264 AD, but it wasn't until the Tang Dynasty that the tea ceremony was formalized. Consumed by monks to stay mentally alert during meditation, tea was appreciated for its stimulant and medicinal properties.

During this dynasty, Lu Yu, a fellow known as the "Sage of Tea", wrote Cha Jing (The Classic of Tea)—scriptures remarking on the importance of water quality and other measures of tea making—consequently creating the first official compendium of the cultural pursuit.

Later, during the Song Dynasty, tea became an artistic and luxury activity, especially among scholars, nobility, and the wealthy. Tea enjoyed its golden age in China during this period, and was being exported to other countries such as Korea and Japan.

"Tea competitions were all the rage. The ceremony of the day typically involved breaking off pieces of pressed tea bricks and grinding them into a fine powder. The ground tea was then sieved and placed in a zhan, with hot water. Then a bamboo whisk was used to whisk the brew vigorously until a layer of foam formed around the surface," Leong explains of the Chinese customs. Regarding these foams that were often decorated, he quips, “Essentially, the Chinese also pioneered the first forms of what we now call latte art!”

Buddhist monks who came to study in China, brought the practice of whisking tea back to Japan, where it has evolved and is very much part of the Japanese tea tradition today. Through trade on the Silk Road, tea also spread to Arab countries and Africa.

Tea eventually became accessible to the common people of China during the Ming and Qing period, when tea was recognized as a necessity and thus no longer taxable by the governing houses. Ultimately, loose-leaf steeped tea (baocha) replaced traditional tea bricks that were previously whipped (mocha) during preparation—leading us to the form of tea we’re most familiar with today.

Down to a Tea
The difference between Western and Eastern tea, according to a tea purist

"The European development of tea in the last 500 years began with the Portuguese queen," reveals Leong. "Ironically, it was Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, who introduced the English aristocracy to her tea drinking custom of having it served with her meals and snacks.

However, as popular as afternoon tea has become since, Leong wryly opposes British methods of steeping. "Usually Chinese teas are quick infusions. Whereas the English brew it with a large pot and a lot of water for a few minutes, which is not the best way... and perhaps why they add milk and sugar to their tea!" 

As a tea classicist, Leong prefers unblended teas that are not augmented with other things such as flowers or citrus fruits, "It takes away from the chaste enjoyment of tea; just how you wouldn't add Coca Cola to your wine." An unblended tea is typically a single variety of tea.

Every country has its own premium tea varieties, and it's subjective to experts on which is the finest amongst the first flush (first harvest), where the highest grade of tea are plucked in early Spring. Arguably, one of the most difficult teas to make are Oolongs, specifically cliff tea varieties. There's an intricate process of fermenting and oxidizing the leaves, and if not done carefully, an entire season's harvest could be spoiled. Oolongs typically require more work than a green or white tea.

[Listen to the podcast for more details on how to properly steep teas, what kind of material the kettles should be made of, and which brands of bottled water are the most suitable for high grade tea]

Mastering Tea
It’s as pretentious as wine tasting, but not as pompous in practice (at least for now). Perhaps owing to its intriguing ancient history, complexity, variety, and nutritional properties.

There are different schools of thought on how to 'taste' tea, but the simplest is a sensorial approach.

Color: Good tea should have clarity. The liquor should appear bright and have a certain lively vibrancy. It shouldn't look dull.

Aroma: Look for aromas that are typical of the tea that you're drinking. For example, the fenghuang dancong Mr. Leong and I are drinking this afternoon should and does have notes of apricots, peaches, tropical fruits, and flowers.

Taste: Tea should be faithful to its variety. A pu-erh should taste like pu-erh. If it doesn't taste like anything (dull, astringent, tannic, bitter), it's probably best to throw it out.

Aging Tea
Aging makes the tea softer and mellower, lending a matured character to the taste and aroma. Pu-erh is popular for aging, as young pu-erh can be tannic and astringent, but after ten years, it ripens like a fruit. “The taste becomes dark and soft, that’s why it is consumed with dim sum,” explains Leong.

In the Chinese community, it has become trendy to age white tea.  But like wine, tea is a highly complex issue, and more so. It’s also important to note, that aging doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of tea (or wine). Our tea expert cautions, “There’s no point aging a terrible tea, because it won’t get better! Start with a good product first, and even then, aging won’t necessarily improve it.”

Tea Bags, Iced Tea, and other potentially blasphemous things
Doth ice in tea offend tea purists?

If you cut open a tea bag, you’ll find it is mostly tea ‘dust’, which is the lowest grade of tea leaves you can possibly have. Whole tea leaves or tea bricks that are broken up and ground up (different than tea dust) are most ideal. There are tea brands that retail reasonably good tea in tea bags, such as Dilmah Tea and Singapore founded tea brand, Gryphon Tea Company. Out of the politeness of a tea drinker, we’ll refrain from naming some of the tea dusters. [However, you might hear some specifics mentioned in our podcast, along with more tips on tasting, preparing, and purchasing tea]

How about iced tea—is it blasphemy? No, it isn’t, and thank goodness. There are ways to cold steep teas. Particularly in tropical countries or in summer, you can find good quality oolongs or green teas and brew it cold. The night before you serve cold tea, put the leaves in a glass decanter with room temperature water—both Leong and I have an appreciation for Volvic water, because of its soft texture and lack of harsh mineral character. Then cover the decanter with cling wrap and let it steep overnight or at least 8 hours.

An Ode to Tea

As you may have gathered, there is much knowledge that goes behind tea—there’s more complexity to it than even wine. At a restaurant, all that needs to be done is a pulled cork and a bottle being served right in front of you, to be tasted the wine maker would have intended it. The tea expert, Kenny Leong divulges, “Whereas the result of tea will depend on the person brewing it, and whether he or she has all the brewing parameters to a… well, down to a Tea.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

HmletLife, renting apartments with a personal touch

One of the things that drew me to journalism was hearing and sharing people's stories. I've managed to find a way back to doing that with Hmlet... the stories have been touching, hilarious, and barf-worthy adorable.

This latest series I'm working on together with photographer Adam Tun-Aung, is a photo series about the "Humans of Hmlet." I am producing the Hmlet videos as well while I interview our members about their personal tales.

One trend I've noticed is their appreciation for the personal touch.  There was a distinct appreciation for folks like Zenos Schmickrath (co-founder) and Debbie Ang (sales) who gave apartment renting and sales a personal touch with their genuine concern. Hmlet has led to real friendships between our units. Here's a candid shot we did at the end of one of our shoots tonight at The Sail, where three of our members wanted to say something to Zenos after meeting each other through Hmlet...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Live Cooking Demo by Victoria Cheng: #Knorrthentic Farmer's Pop-Up

So, I did a live cooking demo at VivoCity last Saturday! Knorr challenged us to create a Mod-Sin recipe (Mod-Sin: Modern Singaporean, local food with a twist)... I hadn't tested out my recipe yet, so I was a bit nervous going in! 
Thanks to everyone who dropped by Knorrthentic Farmer's Market Pop-Up and gave me the thumbs up for the final dish.

I presented a Hainanese Pork Chop Pot Pie. Recipe will be up soon. Super fun cooking our own recipes live with Chef Shen Tan, Sharon Lam (Delishar: One woman's kitchen adventure), Chun Rong (@XLBCR), Joey Lee, and Diana Gale. 
Little Instastories snippets here.

So, I presented a Hainanese Pork Chop Pot Pie. Recipe will be up soon. Super fun cooking our own recipes live with Chef...
Posted by GASTRONOMMY on Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Vlog review: JAAN by Chef Kirk Westaway

Cannon of Spring Lamb

Balsamic Roasted Black Figs with Tonka Bean Ice Cream

Here are the Snapchat snippets from lunch at JAAN by Chef Kirk Westaway. The restaurant was recently awarded 1-star by Michelin Guide Singapore and ranked 29th on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2016 (S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna).

Level 70, Equinox Complex
Swissôtel The Stamford
2 Stamford Road
Singapore 178882
Contact: +65 6837 3322 or

images provided by JAAN

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Detox Retreats: W Singapore at Sentosa Cove

We went to preview a weekend detox retreat at W Sentosa Cove! Starting with welcome cocktails on a catamaran, we had a buffet dinner with Seafood from the Heart, followed by more cocktails at Woo Bar's TGIF³ party. We bunked in suites, and woke up bright in the AM for Strala Yoga (Tara Stiles was around too!) and massages by the poolside. The weekend ended with a healthy but generous breakfast at W's Extreme WOW Suite; their presidential suite.

Seafood from the HeartTGIF³ and the Strala Yoga session are W Sentosa staples. As for the welcome cocktail on the catamaran and breakfast at their Extreme WOW Suite, W Sentosa is able to create catered packages for those who are interested.

W Singapore Sentosa Cove
Address: 21 Ocean Way, 098374
Set on the island of Sentosa, this lavish resort is 3.4 km from Resorts World Sentosa and 4.1 km from the Images of Singapore museum. 

Modern, tropical-inspired rooms feature mood lighting, floor-to-ceiling windows with island/ocean views, free WiFi, 40-inch TVs, Bose speakers and iPod docks. Upgraded rooms and suites add balconies/terraces (some with plunge pools and day beds) and more ornate furnishings. Dramatic suites also have lounges and whirlpool tubs, and 1 has a full kitchen.

Amenities include 2 restaurants, a cocktail bar and a lounge beside an outdoor pool with underwater speakers. There's also a spa, a gym and several stores.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It's just a dog.

When it comes to matters of the heart, I don't wear it on my sleeve; I've found that my outlet of expression is through written words.

We're picking up Tofu's ashes this evening.  Even though he was getting old, you can never be mentally prepared for it. He died suddenly on the afternoon of 12 September.

"It's just a dog," some people say.  I have no expectations nor demands of anyone to understand that particular bond between human and dog.

It goes beyond human relationships.  Frankly, I can't think of other situations when I'd actually miss having someone follow me to the bathroom solely for the contentedness of being near me whilst I shower or defecate.  I suppose Tofu was just returning the courtesy, since I'm around when he showers and poops too.

He joined me in Singapore, when I moved here alone.  On Sundays, when local friends had their own family matters to tend to, Tofu was my kin and company.  For years, he was there for my ups and downs.  He was with me since New York when I had my first serious boyfriend in college.  He was there during the warm moments, the fights, and the heartbreaks too.

He was there snuggled up in my arms whilst I was reading, he was there to prance and jump along on the bed to my shameless pajama dancing to Pop songs – even though he prefers Coldplay.

He knows I don't like being slobbered on, so in the mornings when he wanted to wake me up, he'd nuzzle his nose into my cheek and then nuzzle some more.

Like many small dogs, he liked to be the tough guy.  I don't usually leash him up when we go on walks, but once he was when there was a fat cat twice his size nearby.  He pulled at his leash while he barked big-boy noises at it.

Then he yanked once a little too hard and the leash dropped from my hand. He quickly moved towards the cat without me, barking until he realized there was no resistance pulling him back.  He tilted his head and looked back around at me in apprehension, then sheepishly came scurrying back.  From behind my ankles, he quieted down to a scoff and a grumble.

Tofu loves girls.  Since his puppy days hanging in Washington Square Park, he'd naturally gravitate towards anything in a skirt, perhaps knowing they would be a guaranteed source of squealing and fawning attention.  He loved people, and didn't have much interest in other dogs.  

He was particular though, because he seemed to know who wasn't quite a 'dog person' (or perhaps something else).  He couldn't be bribed with treats or food from these people.  He'd walk away uninterested.  Funnily, this test extended to my potential dates too - and sure enough, he knew how to pick out what turned out to be the bad eggs.

We both have an unreasonable fear of thunderstorms. We moved to Singapore, which has pretty much the scariest thunderstorms we've ever experienced – thunderous booms that would rattle the windows and lightning that tears across the horizon.  When he sensed an impending storm of doom, he'd come in close into my arms, and I'd hold him tight and pull the covers over.  He was my thunder buddy until our last days together.

He became my security blanket.  He was there whenever I did something stupid or mortifyingly embarrassing at my first internship and my first career jobs out of college. He never bore judgement, just kisses and wiggles. Still now, when I relive these embarrassing moments in my head —and this next part has become habit— I call out loud "Tofu!" even when I was overseas away from him.  I really do.

He's seen me through some serious downs and several pivotal moments through the 12.5 years.  He too was involved in some of the moments.  Never in my adult life have I knelt crying and begging, except once, and that was to save him when he was taken from me. I was 27 then. I learned a lesson of what love and humility means in your own household. And there finding that having difference in values can never be changed, and discovering within myself that this as the most important aspect in human relationships.

In return, he's displayed a fierce loyalty I've experienced no where else.

Then came a recent and perhaps one of the most extreme phases in my life; which resulted in moving apartments in Singapore every few months while I tried to figure out life and the idea of even continuing my own.  He was there, but in spirit I was not.  It was a dark period.

As I prepared to move him back to Hong Kong and couldn't bring him along with me to my temporary accommodations, I was fortunate enough to meet someone who was curious to dogsit this little dog named Tofu.

From there, I witnessed someone who soon grew to love Tofu like her own. While I figured out my situation, she took him in and put so much heart into giving him the best she thought there was. It's a wonder she ever cared so much, because he was horribly grumpy and mean in big social settings (and she's a social gal) during his last years.  I'm so grateful for her care, and I thank you Caryn Cheah for loving him. He loved you too.

I apologize to folks who encountered him in his final months, when he decided to rock his old age  and do whatever he willed – peed on who he disliked, bit without consequence, smooshed his face in poop.  I wish I witnessed more of it, the stories half embarrass me, half crack me up.

So, I understand if I sound ludicrous right now to some readers.  It's just a dog.

And now, I'm closing this post so I can pick up his ashes this 14 September 2016.

I'll be releasing his ashes where we spent countless quiet nights along Henderson Waves by ourselves. Goodbye Mister Tofu.  ro ro.

[For posterity, quoting my Facebook eulogy to him here]

13 good years, Tofu. You saw me through college since your puppyhood in wintery New York when Jonathan Lee almost convinced me to name you 'Escalade' or 'Dom'—as in Perignon (thankfully Helene Yatrakis McNannasuggested the most perfect name which you bear now). Went to Hong Kong and you continued being my little spoon, and where you met your girlfriend, Miso. Then I went to Singapore, and along you traveled again. You were my thunder buddy in this place that has pretty much the scariest thunderstorms we've ever been through.
You weren't very popular in your last 2 years, as the biggest crankiest oldman grumpface. But you truly touched a good handful of us in a big way through these years. I'm so grateful for people who understood the wonder of your fierce loyalty and loved you as much.. And you lived your last year as a beloved Prince with Caryn Cheah Hsiao Fen, when I couldn't. Loved and snuggled by Serene Lim too. Patiently handled by roommates and friends Varian Lim Norman Hartono Rika Lam Maggie Luk Lau and more.
13 years, you remained sprightly and ridiculously good looking. You were there for my toughest moments over the past decade, snuggling into my face when I was sad, or happily jumping along with me to shamefully bad pop music in my bedroom. Cooking was the best with you around my feet in the kitchen, cleaning up scraps that accidentally fell (I still have the habit of not immediately picking up fallen food.. Except onions and garlic, I still freak out when I drop that because of you). And you always knew how to help me suss out the good boyfriends from the shitty ones. Ha.
You're my best bud. You are kin. I don't think there are thunderstorms in Heaven, so you'll be alright there with Miso.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Moderating at Millennial2020

It was my first time moderating at a conference, usually I'm interviewing or on the panel. I was really hoping to moderate the Content Marketing panel, darn. Nonetheless, thank you for the invitation to moderate this discussion, Millennial20/20.

It's a shame a lot of the replies were canned PR-type responses, but perhaps I can also improve as a moderator and insist on harder hitting questions next time. Some nice insights from Kiyan Foroughi from Happy Fresh though - I'm interested to see how the industry plays out as competitors (RedMart, HonestBee, etc) begin to intersect markets.

For more information:
2016 conference at Singapore's ArtScience Museum.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Caffe Vergnano 1882 in Singapore

World's such a funny place, how it all comes back around after a time. This first happened a while back, before third-wave coffee was even a thing in Asia.

10 years ago, whilst I was still wet behind the ears, fresh out of school, I entered the F&B business beginning with Caffè Vergnano Hong Kong. It was the Vergnano family who taught me how to appreciate coffee, and the culture behind an Italian coffee bar. The world digs Aussie-style coffee now, but remember, it was the Italians who brought it to Australia! 

It was during those 5 years where I learned the kind of dedication and unforgiving hours it takes to run restaurant operations (and probably why I eventually opted for the dark side instead: media).

Anyway, fast forward to this afternoon: I was really happy to receive an email announcing Caffe Vergnano's 100th outlet opening... Here in SINGAPORE! Caffè Vergnano 1882 Singapore
Congratulazioni! I'm elated to see you guys here too.

One of our Hong Kong promos in 2007.


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