Jason Tan, Corner House
His dishes have always put botanical elements front and centre, and now Jason Tan – chef and co-owner of Corner House – wants to take the botanical focus in his cuisine to the next level. Launching in April 2016 is a concept menu that spotlights a single plant, vegetable or fruit on each dish, using different parts of that produce.
(RELATED: We documented Jason Tan’s culinary journey.)
Think an assembly of Japanese cucumber pickled with white balsamic and sugar, compressed cucumber with elderfl ower, marinated cucumber seeds and freshly sliced cucumber. “By using various parts of different plants and vegetables, from the seeds to the tubers and leaves, buds and flowers, I realised that I was celebrating their life cycle.”
Adding a different dimension to the culinary experience are pieces of poetry inspired by the respective dishes. Penned by local poet Madeleine Lee, who has been instrumental in public projects such as Moving Words – Poetry on the MRT and is currently the writer-in-residence at Singapore Botanic Gardens, the lines inject personality into, as well as illustrate the beauty of, each ingredient. “They are each stars in their own right,” says Tan.
“E.J.H. Corner himself (whom the restaurant is named after) also enjoyed writing poems and is a prolific writer. Corner House as a restaurant has never been just about food, but the complete dining experience. The poetry adds to the pleasure of all the senses. Over the course of the meal, not just the body is fuelled, but the mind and soul is also fed.”
– Jason Tan
Han Li Guang, Labyrinth
In a city that doesn’t sleep, its people’s appetites do not rest either. From 2am porridge suppers, 9am breakfasts of eggs and kaya toast, and 1pm bak chor mee lunches to 8pm chilli crab dinners and back to supper again, the food diary of a Singaporean gourmand can very well be a snapshot of the local food scene. And in his nine-course Experience menu served at Labyrinth, chef-owner Han Li Guang tells just that gourmet story: a day in the life of a Singaporean, from breakfast to supper, Singaporean-style.
His interpretation of local dishes is not just about playing the what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get trick. It often fuses iconic dishes, so that what looks like chwee kueh could taste exactly like a mouthful of nasi lemak complete with sambal ikan bilis; and a dessert of griddled meringue slices sandwiching a teh tarik “kaya” references both the popular kopitiam drink and the local breakfast staple.And to be able to invent, he digs deep into the heart of every dish to learn its original flavours and traditional methods of preparation.
“It’s easy to overlook the effort and skills of the hawkers because of the price they charge. However, in the course of designing this menu, I learnt much about local food and its traditions, and gained a new level of respect for hawkers and their creations,” shares Han. The result: bright, distinct flavours that are perfectly on point, so that even if you have never had a bowl of minced pork noodles in your life, you will still enjoy the al dente, silky strands of saffron-infused squid “noodles” served with a seared scallop cleverly sliced to resemble fishcake, and topped with a fiery sambal and olive oil powder with burnt onion, made to look like minced pork. For the rest of us, Han’s wit is his most powerful seasoning.
“I want customer s to learn about the culture and flavours of Singapore cuisine in an interactive way. The menu also serves to showcase Singapore cuisine in a manner that a wide spectrum of people – even foreigners – can appreciate. For locals, it is to inject an element of surprise: that the flavours we are accustomed to can be presented in a wildly different manner yet remain relatable.”
– Han Li Guang
Seita Nakahara, Terra
He was born in Tokyo, Japan; relocated to Singapore with his family as a teenager; and later moved to Italy for four years to learn how to cook authentic Italian cuisine. When he decided that Singapore was going to be the city where he opens his fi rst restaurant, Seita Nakahara – chef-owner of Terra – went back to Japan once more: this time, on a food pilgrimage. For about six months, he travelled across the peninsula, visiting every prefecture and the best farms in each.
“I wanted to showcase the beautiful produce and ingredients of my native land, in the style that I know how, in a city where I felt at home.” So the food of Terra, which he calls “Tokyo-Italian cuisine”, is essentially classic Italian dishes made using top-quality Japanese seasonal ingredients, prepared for the cosmopolitan Singaporean market. In more ways than one, each dish tells the personal story of Nakahara’s life and his adventures around the world.
One of his personal favourites: the acqua pazza. “This seafood soup is my absolute favourite Italian dish and takes me back to my cooking days in Taormina, Italy,” raves Nakahara. “It was introduced to me by the chef at Panasia where I was working. Traditionally, acqua pazza is a recipe for poached white fi sh and may refer to the broth used to poach the fi sh. Now, however, modern interpretations incorporate all kinds of seafood. I make mine with seafood imported from Hokkaido, and on most days, I have that during my lunch break.”
“Terra is a reflection of my travels and my philosophy on cooking. From ingredient source to tableware (most of the plates we use at Terra are handmade by artisans in Japan, and I carried them into Singapore) and plating, ever y element contains memories of the places I have been that ultimately shaped the dish.”
– Seita Nakahara