She is the CEO of The Ate Group, an integrated communications agency with food as an area of expertise and clients such as Jaan, Long Chim and Joel Robuchon Restaurant. She is also one of the founding writers at 10-year-old food blog www.chubbyhubby.net started by her husband, Aun Koh, and a scribe who has written and help publish numerous cookbooks, books on food, and restaurant guides. When you are all that, as Tan Su-Lyn is, food takes on a different meaning – it’s never just about putting something tasty on a plate.
“My love for cooking was founded upon a passion for understanding what the social and cultural significance of eating and cooking are,” shares Tan. Having the opportunity to work with chefs, restaurateurs and fellow foodies who are just as avid about the subject, has also influenced her.
“They have educated and inspired me in my own kitchen, often by giving me a privileged perspective of how things work — be it in a dish, on a menu, in a kitchen or at a restaurant,” says Tan.“Every job I’ve had has afforded me the luxury of being able to ask why and how a dish is the way it is. Understanding provenance, for example, whether that refers to the provenance of an idea, a recipe, a culinary technique or an ingredient, adds a great deal to my approach to cooking at home.”
This means that whenever Tan cooks a traditional dish for the first time, she cross-references different sources from the dish’s place of origin to find commonalities that tell of fundamental basics. Upon mastering the basics, she builds upon this foundation and does her own interpretations.
“Instinctively, I like to cook traditional dishes. But, as one grows more comfortable in the kitchen and gets more exposed in terms of dining out, you get more confident in experimenting.”
Tan’s kitchen is thus more than a place for whipping up spectacular meals. It is pretty much a learning space where she dissects cuisine, be it traditional or modernist, and develops her own theories about them.
And this pristine, all-white space, approximately 250 sq ft in size, is outfitted with all the tools one may need: pots, pans, trays in all sizes, a barbecue grill on the counter sitting alongside induction and gas stoves, three ovens including a 90cm rotisserie and a combi-steam, two Kitchen Aid mixers, a Thermomix, a sous vide machine, a dehydrater, a vacuum packer… even twin dishwashers. This is clearly designed as a high-use kitchen, where both she and her husband can work side by side.
Some uber-sophisticated restaurant-quality dishes – such as a variation of Michael Richard’s Le Kit Cat, made with kopi-o ganache and kaya ice cream (pictured below)– come out of this space. Tan and her husband are also known to put out spectacular, professional-standard dinners for friends, who include some of the most well-known chefs in the country.
“Entertaining happens over the weekends and I have to admit that I do dessert at most, these days. Otherwise, we try to break down the prep so that it is done by different people over different times, over a few days – we kinda have a dinner party in our fridge always!”
However, for this mother to a four-year-old boy and a baby girl, the kitchen is also where homemade meals for the young ones – from vegetable purees to meatballs and burgers – are made. The vacuum packer is used to seal her son’s handmade meatballs into individual portions, which are then frozen for freshness and the preservation of nutrients. The combi-steam oven is used to steam foods that are then made into purees for the baby.
“I do not cook meals daily because I don’t have the time, but I create recipes so that our helper can cook how I would. On weekends, we try to cook one meal at home that we eat as a family,” says Tan. Being a working mother strapped for time also means that when Tan cooks, she does so in bulk for maximum efficiency.
“When we make soya sauce chicken, it is not one portion but three chickens. It’s about working within the limitations of the time we have,” she says.
Forget about walk-in wardrobes; what the gourmand needs is a walk-in larder.
“It was actually just a dead space which we had to find use for,” says Tan quite nonchalantly about the cold room that runs along the length of the kitchen. What started out as a temperature-controlled wine storage area became a larder for a whole world of gourmet foodstuffs, from Valrhona chocolate in 3kg bags to dried herbs, condiments and speciality foods bought abroad.
“We don’t have a lot of time to do grocery shopping, so we buy certain things in large quantities. Having a larder is also useful for storing anything which we do not want exposed to the humidity and heat.”
We at Gourmet & Travel are excited to announce that Tan Su-Lyn will be taking over @gourmetandtravel’s Instagram account this weekend (12 – 13 Sep)! Keep an eye out for her posts – they’re going to be a treat!