Like the eternal romantic always looking for “the one”, Damian D’Silva has had a string of broken kitchen relationships in his life. His true love is heritage cuisine, but instead of settling down happily ever after with it, he’s been on an eternal seesaw between hopeful idealism and crushing reality.
After his last stint at Folklore restaurant – where he tried but eventually failed to balance being a hotel employee and bastion of his grandfather’s rich Eurasian-PeranakanChinese culinary history – Chef D’Silva was like someone fresh from a conscious uncoupling. Frustrated, lost – a man clinging fiercely to his uncompromising cooking traditions, but steadily demoralised by how so few seemed to appreciate it.
But that was a couple of months ago. Chef D’Silva is in love again because – fingers crossed – he’s found the partner he’s been looking for all his life.
By end-October, he will open his new restaurant Kin at the hip local members’ club Straits Clan, founded by Lo & Behold’s Wee Teng Wen.
Kin is an apt name for the restaurant,which evokes images of family, hearth, warmth and community. That’s exactly what he wants his food to be, but with a modern aesthetic that will appeal to both purists and the Instagram crowd.
“I’ve been doing a lot of R&D,” says the 63-year-old chef with newfound enthusiasm.
The food will still be communal style, but now I’ve got the support (that he didn’t get before) to push my cuisine to a level that can be seen as eloquent.” Eloquent in the sense of presentation, plateware, even food-styling to a certain extent. “They have one person here whose job is to make sure that whatever plateware goes on the table matches the dish,” he marvels.
But more important, he feels that he finally has the support of someone – namely Mr Wee, who brought him on board after finding out he was available – who shares his vision.
“Our mission has always been to create experiences that tell a unique Singaporean story, (so) we’re honoured to support our leading local culinary icon, Damian, to showcase his take on heritage cuisine,” says Mr Wee.
For that, Chef D’Silva is grateful. “I’ve reached an age where I have to be 99 per cent sure of who I’m going to work with. I want heritage food to be appreciated and put on the map. Why can’t our heritage food be appreciated by the rest of the world?”
Although plans for him to start a cooking school after Folklore didn’t pan out, he believes he can achieve his goal of teaching the younger generation about the food from their grandparents’ time.
Interestingly enough, he’s seeing more young chefs keen to learn from him, and has already recruited two, including one from a Michelin-starred restaurant who wanted to learn more about his roots. “I want to bring (my food) to the level that students out there will say, ‘I want to work with Damian. He’s the one who will take me back to the time of my grandparents when I wasn’t there and he can show me.’”
He certainly has a lot planned. This time, it’s not just Eurasian and Peranakan because his grandfather covered practically all styles including Chinese, Malay and Indian. So you’ll find his version of chi pao kai (paperwrapped chicken) and steamed fish using artisanal Teochew and Cantonese soya sauce from small local operators his mother used to buy from.
“I want to do my pickles and gulai, nasi ulam, daun pegaga (a hard to find vegetable) salad which is Indonesian-Peranakan and other recipes that have disappeared,” he rattles off.
But wait. Straits Clan is a members-only club. However, part of his deal is that some tables are reserved for the public, as he wants as many people as possible to enjoy his cuisine. “I’ve had so many ideas but I never had the opportunity or platform until now.”
And on top of that, Kin may well bring him the validation that he seeks, hopefully from the likes of Asia’s 50 Best or even Michelin, assuming Kin qualifies given it’s part of a club.
If so, then we’re pretty sure that, after a long line of breakups, Kin could finally be the one.
Kin, Straits Clan, 31 Bukit Pasoh Road. For details, email email@example.com
This article was originally published in The Business Times.