Why does Chinese food have to be so – Chinese? That seems to be the thought going through the minds of chefs and restaurants these days, going by the way some Chinese restaurants are heading towards modern plating while adapting French techniques in the kitchen as well.
In Singapore, you’re likely to step into a contemporary bistro and be served a plate of wok hei-infused noodles as much as a hamburger – but chalk that up to a growing confidence of chefs who, already proficient in their native cuisine, are also exposed to Western culture and techniques.
As a result, it’s given rise to restaurateurs who are keen to explore the diverse flavours of Chinese food and its place in modern cuisine.
A new expression of Chinese cuisine
“Chinese cuisine is one that many Singaporeans are familiar with,” says Norman Hartono, creative director of Ebb and Flow Group, which runs Dragon Chamber. “And it’s time to move beyond its strict barriers.”
Going for a modern take is a strategic move, says Ricky Ng, owner and managing director of Blue Lotus Concepts, which owns a string of restaurants showcasing new-age Chinese and local fare. “Chinese food is rarely the first choice for younger diners.”
They’re not out to replace classic Chinese restaurants or zi char eateries, but rather offer a different dining experience. Adds Mr Ng, “Our dining concepts shine light on Chinese cuisine by using western techniques, giving us a broader appeal.”
Don’t be mistaking this “upgrade” to be fusion, however. The roots must come from a Chinese or Asian dish, and staying true to its flavour profile is critical.
Quality still important
“To pull it off, you’ll need good cooking methods and quality ingredients as well,” says Steve Aw, assistant vice president of Tung Lok Group. Lokkee has already proven to be a success but the group is now banking on their famed roasted duck, presented in Asian and Western-style dishes, to draw in a new crowd at Duckland.
There is another underlying factor. “It’s not easy employing staff in the F&B industry, particularly for Chinese cuisine. Having a kitchen that uses both styles, albeit predominantly Western, allows us to employ staff from either cooking backgrounds,” explains Mr Ng.
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This article was originally published in The Business Times.
Photos: 51 Soho, Shang Social & The Dragon Chamber