The question that precedes every dish at Morsels is this: “Are you proud of it?” Bryan Chia and Petrina Loh, chef-owners of the small plates restaurant in Little India, ask themselves this before sending a dish out of the kitchen. The couple met at a mutual friend’s birthday party five years ago, where they “started chatting about food and just couldn’t stop talking”.
Their conversations have since translated into creating dishes together, and those items take pride of place on their menu. Take a house-smoked beef tongue, for example, which combines Chia’s smoking proficiency with Loh’s pickling expertise. Chia smokes it using both cherry and hickory wood, because “cherry wood alone is not strong enough to give it a good smoky flavour.”
To enhance and complement the smokiness, Loh adds pickled red onion made with a red wine reduction and vinegar. They also use spring onion oil, instead of extra-virgin olive oil, to create a distinct aroma. With its unique food DNA, two-year-old Morsels has gained a loyal following, despite its off-beat location. Both chefs were also nominated for Meat & Livestock Australia Rising Chef of the Year at the recent World Gourmet Summit (WGS) Awards of Excellence, with Chia taking home the title.
The duo might work seamlessly together, but are as different as night and day. Chia is the easy-going, experimental guy who would, on a whim, spend nine hours looking for an oil drum and fixing it up – just because a friend suggested building a meat smoker over drinks. “We have awesome smoking parties,” he beams. Loh, though, is rational and exacting. “Having been a banker previously, I’m trained to question pros and cons before I do something,” she shares.
Yet, their food is a sound indication that they balance each other out. After all, apart from the WGS award nominations, the pair were two of five chefs selected by Singapore Tourism Board and The Meyer Group, which owns two-Michelin-star Nordic restaurant Noma, to participate in a 10-day gourmet event. Held in Copenhagen in 2014, it is touted as Northern Europe’s leading food festival.
Coincidentally, Chia and Loh nearly stayed in California after graduating from different culinary schools there. Loh was working in the kitchens of Michelin-star restaurants like Spruce and Bouchon in the Bay Area, while Chia honed his butchering skills at Del Dotto Vineyards in Napa Valley. But Loh saw an opportunity for them to start their own restaurant back home. “We read a lot about Singapore having many celebrity chefs but not many local chefs, so we decide to come back,” she says.
It wasn’t a bed of roses from the get-go, as the pair had to overcome manpower issues and learn to resolve inevitable conflicts (thanks to their stubbornness) in the kitchen. But their Californian-inspired menu, peppered with home-grown herbs and house-made stocks, has garnered a fan base. With stellar dishes such as fresh clams immersed in a sweet milky broth made from dried Californian figs and a chicken stock base – a tribute to the Cantonese-style broths Loh drank growing up – the couple prove that two head(chef)s are better than one.