Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Just wanted to put this up before I lose the photos...

Bill and me

Merv, Bill and me
So, in October last year, Merv and I were Bill Granger's cooks for a photo shoot of his upcoming Asian themed cookbook. Fun times in Pulau Ubin :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sous Vide @ Home - Part 2

Alright so this post is long overdue but I only just got my own vacuum sealer last week so technically, my sous vide set up is only just now completed. A lot has been said about cooking sous vide. When the technique first came out in the 70s, it wasn't long before valid concerns over the stability of plastics in hot water and anaerobic bacteria propagation were raised. But we know a lot more about food safety now and food grade plastics are here to stay. There will be those who will always claim that charcoal stoves and wood fired ovens make the best food, and for specific dishes I will be among the first to agree, but seriously, can you do this without sous vide technology?

how gay is this?

That is a piece of USDA choice chuck eye roll. That's right, CHOICE. Not premium standard American beef and yes, CHUCK. But look at it. Perfectly medium from end to end and you know what? So tender that you can easily slice it with a butter knife. Sous vide cooking value adds. Full beef flavour of a tough cut with the tenderness of filet mignon without the slow cooking effect of drying out the meat. I can't think of ANY other way to get results like this.

So, in my case, sous vide cooking is literally meat in a plastic bag, a computer and a rice cooker but damn, the results are mind blowing.

I have used this set up to cook tender cuts and tough cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, fish, scallops, vegetables and even fruit! The results are consistent every single time. What varies is the finishing and I have learned several tough lessons, experiencing it the hard way. For example, searing something at room temperature, something fresh out of the fridge and something fresh out of sous vide, yields differing results. Common sense right? Well not for me...

pre-packed beef in my rice cooker with a resistance thermometer probe
Before I got my own vacuum sealer, I would get the cuts trimmed and pre-sealed and then do a quick marinate before finishing. I was also limited to cuts of meat ordered from my suppliers Now the possibilities are endless, I can save on marinades because vacuum marinating requires a fraction of the marinade and confits can be made hassle free. Perfectly poached scallops and salmon mi-cuit are easy peasy.
pre-sealed lamb shank and marinated chuck tender
I am completely sold on the sous vide technique. I believe it was Thomas Keller who said that sous vide doesn't take away the need to learn classical cooking techniques, it's just another option in a good cook's repertoire.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fund Raiser, Round II

In Feb, JAM catered for a fundraiser. Hor d'oeuvres for 30, we did 6 savoury and 3 sweet. I got the savoury tartlet shells from poon huat and to be frank, they sucked. The photo below shows the shells in the background being filled with a lemon cream cheese, smoked salmon and deep fried capers. A fantastic combo marred by substandard shells.

At about 20 cents a shell, I should have expected pastries made with their vegetable shortening. When filled and left at room temperature, they were hard and cloying on the palate. Unfortunately, we didn't have the budget for anything else and baking 300 of these just wasn't enticing. However, now that Ming and I have done 1200 macaron shells, baking these tartlet shells seems more feasible than before. A move to maintain the quality of the stuff we put out.

We were called in for a second round of the fundraiser. This time no shells will be needed as the menu will be more substantial. I'm staying away from shells until we find a good source or we get the equipment to bake our own. Right now, I have sashimi grade salmon curing in the fridge and chuck eye roll in the sous vide. Macarons with assorted fillings were made last Saturday so things are going well.

Hope everything goes well, I have a packed 3 weeks ahead :(

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Colin, the Ninja Chef

How do you create a menu using premium ingredients and yet keep your average price per dish at just under $20? One way is to cut away overhead and manpower costs.

That's exactly what my friend Colin did.

If one could get away with dragging some burners to the middle of the sidewalk and setting up shop, I'm half sure he would have done that, at least at the beginning. Instead, he moved into the premises of B Bakery on Bussorah Street. Serendipitously, B Bakery closes on Sundays and at 6pm on weekdays, giving Colin free reign over the kitchen for Sunday brunch and dinners from Monday to Wednesday.

He opened shop quite a while back and I've been meaning to head down but somehow never did. I finally made it a point to get my ass there for the half year anniversary of ZT and me. I should have gone sooner.

I first met Colin at the Brown Sugar Bistro. He was helping his friend Kelvin, the owner of the now closed Le Figue, for a private engagement. Kelvin was there as a favour to the owner Yuan who was having issues with his chef. That was back in 2007 and if I recall correctly, Colin stayed there for a while after and that's how we got to know each other. Some time later, I helped him for a lunch function at the now defunct Les Brasserie on Club Street. I burned his strawberries for dessert :(

After that, he got married and we only kept in touch via the odd text or facebook msg. We met again when he joined the spanking new Pamplemousse in Dempsey. Then he stepped away from a respectable position and went out on his own.

In his own words, moving to B Bakery was the right thing to do because he finally had a humble place to call his own and where he was free to express himself. Cooking is artisanal to him and I respect him tremendously for sticking to his guns. For the same reason, I think he wouldn't be too happy calling him a ninja rather than an artist. But that's what he is - a bad boy rebel who does things his own way.

Some days at B Bakery are better than others. Today, when I walked in, the 20 seat dining room was empty. The location and the lack of awareness is definitely a reason for this but it shouldn't be this way. IAmArtisan, is a gem of a find. I don't claim to be an authority on food but I have eaten quite a bit in my short life, to the point that I am rarely impressed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not playing his tune because he's my friend. I can foresee a whole host of problems if they got more than 3 tables simultaneously because it's just him in the kitchen and his wife Rose handling front of house. I also didn't like every single thing about the food. BUT what he let me experience today was a real and proper meal. Dining as it should be, leisurely and of excellent quality.

The menu changes weekly but I've observed that Colin keeps his favourite main ingredients on each edition of the menu. Look out for the beetroot salad which will change the way you think of this muddy root. He also brings in fresh sardines from Europe but as well executed as this dish was, I'm not a fan of fishy fish. What I thoroughly enjoyed was the Port Nicholson cheese and his rendition of carbonara.

Don't take my word for it. Go try it for yourselves and be wow-ed.

B Bakery
15 Bussorah Street

Tuesdays to Saturdays - Dinner
Sundays - Brunch

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cooking Classes

4 years ago when I was constantly trying to take Jo's eye out and helping to facilitate cooking classes and corporate bonding sessions at the Coriander Leaf, I never thought that I would be running classes of my own. Back then, I couldn't understand why people would pay so much for the same information they could easily find on videojug and youtube. I have a different view on this now.

In Singapore, there isn't much to do. After watching every movie that's out and pacing the malls, cooking classes offer an alternative activity that is interactive without being sweaty, as opposed to passive movie watching and sweaty games of tennis.The tactile learning one goes through by participating in a class gives form to the words and numbers in a recipe. What does consistency of magma or stiff peaks or over whipped cream mean? Better to discover it with your own senses then waste several batches of ingredients finding out on your own.

These classes are also a great way of meeting like minded people. Sure I've met really obnoxious know-it-alls but the majority of the people just want to have a good time doing something they enjoy. One thing I enjoy about hands on classes is that it's a 2 way learning highway. I am there to present a class but we all learn together along the way by fixing things that go wrong on the spot and by trading tips.

Besides being a good source of income, sometimes even better than the cooking stints we get at JAM, we get to showcase our skills and get new leads for what I love doing most, cooking for people. I used to tutor chemistry. I love chemistry but I hated teaching it. I'm quite ok with teaching how to cook though, maybe it really is about the content.

I still think that these classes can be expensive but I can see the allure they have. Check out what I'm doing this month with ToTT and Cookyn with Mervyn.