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Latest trend in Singapore’s dining scene: Chef collaborations add excitement to menus

Unlike in the past, chefs of today are joining forces in the kitchen to create new menus.

In the past, chefs would guard their recipes and techniques with their lives – it would take years of boiling rice before a sushi chef would let his apprentice out of the kitchen, and even longer before the latter could actually touch a knife.

All that seems to be changing however, as the age of the Internet and easy access to information have made these trade secrets a little harder to keep. Some chefs no longer see a need to keep their recipe books under lock and key; and it is even common to find them coming together from different restaurants and joining forces in the kitchen to create “four-hands” or “six-hands” menus.

For instance, Singapore-based French chef Julien Royer of the newly-minted two-Michelin-star restaurant Odette recently collaborated with Japanese chef Yoshiaki Takazawa, where each came up with individual courses that would work best in one menu.

  • Next month, local chef Bjorn Shen of Bird Bird will be partnering with Cebu-born chef Chris Calledo of Iskina Cebu for one night at the Gillman Barracks 4th Anniversary Celebrations' Art After Dark event.
Says Royer: “In an increasingly globalised world, cuisines are not as linear or defined, making it easier to work on such collaborations. Singapore diners are also curious to see what the marriage of cuisine philosophies and inspirations will bring to the table.”

(Related: Where to find the best butter in Singapore.)

He notes that these collaborations mark a shift where people are more open to building genuine relationships, while at the same time discovering not just new techniques, but also ingredients and producers from their peers.

That will also help the local F&B industry to move forward too, says Singaporean chef Anthony Yeoh, who heads the rustic French restaurant Cocotte. The latter has worked with Canadian celebrity chef Trevor Bird, as well as local chefs such as Bjorn Shen from Artichoke and Ming Tan from Park Bench Deli.

Says Yeoh: “There’s nothing proprietary about our recipes anymore since you can go on the Net and search for anything now, and keeping a recipe to yourself doesn’t help the industry. That’s why I’m very open and want to spread whatever knowledge I have. You don’t want an industry that’s very closed-off and competitive – it’s already competitive enough from a business perspective.”

Shen of Artichoke believes that collaborations are a good way to expose his kitchen team to new methods of cooking. In fact, he is quite the collaboration-enthusiast, and estimates that he does at least about 15 of them a year – both with local and overseas chefs.

To him, it doesn’t really matter what cuisine the other chef specialises in, as long as they have an existing relationship, as well as mutual respect and love for each other’s food. That’s why one of the chefs he is planning to collaborate with is Ivan Brehm of the one-Michelin-starred modern European restaurant, The Kitchen at Bacchanalia.

Says Shen: “We’re actually banking on the difference between Ivan and I, (so) I’m going to take his pretty, classic dishes and mess them up, and he’s going to take my dishes and fancify them.”

Even hawkers have been getting in on the action – Nick Soon of One Kueh At A Time teamed up with chef-owner Petrina Loh of Morsels for an event titled A Night With Kueh in May this year. The latter explains: “My idea was to use something traditional and make it modern. So, usually for every plate we have a starch, and I wanted that to be the kueh. What came out of it was the idea of challenging the fillings, the usage, and the flavours. For Nick, it opened his eyes to what he could do with his kuehs down the road aside from traditional fillings.”

From that dinner, came unusual dishes such as Hoisin Duck Breast a la Plancha made with a fermented mushroom kueh, eryngii mushrooms, and five spice raspberry gastrique; as well as a Burrata Bok Choy Salad with a classic chive kueh, peanut milk, and confit golden beetroot.

Adds Loh: “I feel both chefs need to have similar food ideology and ethos. A lot of chefs collaborate for marketing purposes but for me it’s secondary. If you have a strong enough conviction and reason to work with another chef, the marketing flow will come. But if you start with the marketing motive, then the heart of the collaboration is off to a wrong footing from the start.”

For Peruvian chef Daniel Chavez, one of his biggest motivations for working with another chef is to give his guests a new dining experience. He explains: “When Paco Morales (a chef who specialises in food from 10th Century Spain) came, we wanted to show the contrast between him and our food, and with Gaggan Anand (an award-winning Indian chef), we wanted symbiosis with his food, because what we wanted to serve was flavour.”

In fact, one thing he highlights to chefs who want to conduct similar collaborative dinners is the importance of respecting the host restaurant’s clientele. He says: “When we went to Bangkok to cook with Gaggan, we sent a list of dishes and asked which ones he thought would work for his customers. When he came over, he did the same. It’s important to have communication because sometimes cuisine travels but sometimes it doesn’t, and I think only the owners of the restaurant will know what can work and what cannot work, or whether we need to add more salt or chilli. We must be open-minded and willing to adapt to the profile of the guests – that’s what will make the event successful.”

Here are four upcoming collaborations to feast on.

1. Iskina Cebu X Bird Bird at Art After Dark
Gillman Barracks, 9 Lock Road
Sept 23, 7pm to 11pm

If you missed out on the Cebu Spicy Bellychon Curry Noodles at the Open Stoves event by Timbre+ last month, then you’re in luck.

This brainchild of Cebu-born chef Chris Calledo of Iskina Cebu and local chef Bjorn Shen of Bird Bird will be available again for just one night at the Gillman Barracks 4th Anniversary Celebrations’ Art After Dark event on Sept 23. These bee hoon noodles in sour curry gravy topped with roast pork and crackling will be going for S$10 per bowl, with only about 200 portions available.

2. OLA Cocina Del Mar X Rafael Osterling
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3,
12 Marina Boulevard, #01-06
Oct 17 to 24

If you’re the adventurous sort who’s curious about new or uncommon cuisines, then keep a lookout for a collaboration between OLA Cocina Del Mar’s Peruvian chef-owner Daniel Chavez and his favourite Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling who runs the award-winning restaurant Rafael in Lima, Peru. The event takes places in October and some details aren’t fixed yet, but according to Chavez, there will be a dinner serving traditional Peruvian food, as well as a brunch party featuring Peruvian street food and cocktails.

3. GGGOLA
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3,
12 Marina Boulevard, #01-06
November

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants winner Gaggan Anand of the progressive Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok will be back in town this November for another joint event with Spanish restaurant OLA Cocina Del Mar’s chef-owner Daniel Chavez. They just completed the second edition of GGGOLA (Gaggan X OLA) at Meatlicious in Bangkok, where they only used charcoal to cook, and are still deciding on the details for the upcoming event.

4. Morsels X Cocotte
www.facebook.com/restaurantcocotte
www.facebook.com/morselsinsingapore

Look out for an upcoming collaboration between local chefs Anthony Yeoh of Cocotte and Petrina Loh of Morsels, which will likely take place around early October.

Details are still in the works, but Yeoh says guests can expect a one-night-only dinner that will probably take place at Morsels, where every dish will be a collaborative effort from both chefs, and feature fermenting and pickling techniques from Loh mashed up with his own French provincial-cooking style.

Adapted from The Business Times.