Share on:

Of Violin and Apron Strings

Lynnette Seah's precisely executed Peranakan dishes are testament to her culinary prowess.

Our hairstylist, a young man from Malacca, looks like he is about to cry – the Peranakan flavours from Lynnette Seah’s kitchen have just taken him back to his hometown.

The mini tok panjang put out for our photography session is exceedingly impressive, with flavours rich but beautifully balanced. An unctuous babi pongteh is addictive, with a blend of savoury and sweet tastes from the fermented bean paste and palm sugar. A toothsome Thai brown rice with buah keluak and hae bee hiam, seasoned with calamansi juice, chilli and brown sugar thoroughly mixed in, presents layers of flavours in each mouthful.  

Most people know Seah as one of the founding members and co-concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. But the recipient of the Cultural Medallion for Music is not just a master of violin strings – she is also a master of her home kitchen, orchestrating the creation of lavish Peranakan spreads and Western meals. From spoiling friends, she has gone on to feed an extended circle through private dinners hosted at her house, operated under the name Lynnette’s Kitchen. “I entertain about twice a month. I get people over for dinner when I am stressed – creating flavours that go well together makes me happy.” And from the reaction of those who have tried her food, her cooking also makes others happy.

Image 5

Though not born a Peranakan, Lynnette is no stranger to the art of making Peranakan food.

Though not of Peranakan descent – her father being Teochew and her mother, Hokkien – she got an initiation to Nonya food as a child through an aunt, and fell in love with the cuisine’s complex mix of sweet, earthy, spicy, tangy flavours. “I learnt how to cook Peranakan food so that I didn’t have to drive up to Malacca all the time just to get an authentic taste! Also, I get to control the flavour balance and quality of ingredients used – I never use anything bottled or frozen,” says the seasoned cook who has a penchant for making everything, from stocks to hae bee hiam, from scratch – just so that she has perfect control over the final product. “I master the basics and then inject my own personality – just like how I play.” 

To say that Seah has her own way of working in the kitchen is an understatement. Having learnt the ways of the kitchen as a child helping her mother in the ’60s meant learning how to make do with basics. For instance, while most of us rely on the light indicator on an automated cooker to tell us when rice is cooked, she can tell the doneness by listening to the grains as they boil. 

Image 3

Lynnette makes use of her unique combi-steam oven to cook some of her favourite dishes.

Today, the kitchen of her two-year-old Tiong Bahru apartment, however, is luxuriously outfitted with top-end appliances. Two ovens – one conventional and the other a combi-steam – tell of her love for baking and roasting (though she also uses the combi-steam to cook seafood); while a gas stove with a hob specially built for woks betrays the traditionalist in her. “I had an induction hob in my previous apartment, but realised that I cannot do without wok-cooking. Also, it is quicker to adjust the heat on the gas stove.” The kitchen counter was also built to accommodate a bar fridge and wine cabinet beneath, and the ovens were placed at optimal height for statuesque Seah, who stands a head over most women.

“I master the basics and then inject my own personality – just like how I play (the violin).”

Lynnette Seah, Co-Concert Master of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. 

Today, the kitchen of her two-year-old Tiong Bahru apartment, however, is luxuriously outfitted with top-end appliances. Two ovens – one conventional and the other a combi-steam – tell of her love for baking and roasting (though she also uses the combi-steam to cook seafood); while a gas stove with a hob specially built for woks betrays the traditionalist in her. “I had an induction hob in my previous apartment, but realised that I cannot do without wok-cooking. Also, it is quicker to adjust the heat on the gas stove.” The kitchen counter was also built to accommodate a bar fridge and wine cabinet beneath, and the ovens were placed at optimal height for statuesque Seah, who stands a head over most women. 

The kitchen re-design was the most important part in her home renovation. “The kitchen and the dining area are the most important parts of the house, and I made sure that the dining room flowed out to the living area, making it optimal for entertaining.”   

GMonogram

DIFFERENT STROKES

A contrast of old and new equipment in Lynnette Seah’s kitchen.
Sidebar 1
Sidebar 2

MAKING PASTE WITH HASTE

For someone who can cook rice in a pot and beat eggs for cakes without an electric mixer, Seah is also appreciative of technology. “One of the equipment I use most is my Braun food processor, which I use to make rempah – and I make huge quantities of it. I love German equipment – they are reliable.”

SLOW RELEASE

In contrast to the high-power food processor is a small, unassuming mortar and pestle, which she uses to pound fresh spices before cooking. You might think nothing of it, but Seah has been using it for the last 13 years, making it a finely seasoned piece.

For more tips on home entertaining, head on over to Tan Su-Lyn’s feature; the CEO of Ate shares her tips.

GMonogram