“I’m not a Michelin chef.” That’s the first thing that Lawrence Lam, the general manager for the Asia-Pacific arm of Swiss luxury-watch brand DeLaCour, says, as he shows The Peak photographs of his latest culinary creations. Indeed, the items, such as garlic chicken baked with potatoes, and stir-fried beef atop a bed of lettuce, bear little resemblance to professionally arranged plates.
The biggest fans of his food love it just the same. Their initials can be seen in the photographs, carefully written on each dish in ketchup. Says the doting dad: “I cook for my kids – that’s Andre, 16, and Chloe, 10 – and they will actually ask me, ‘What’s on the menu this Saturday?’”
Most of the time, it’s an item that reflects Lam’s off-the-wall culinary sensibilities. He has experimented with bak kut teh (herbal pork-rib soup) with tulang (mutton bones) and black-pepper seafood mee tai mak (short rice noodles). And then there’s his star presentation, samsui chicken, which is steamed chicken eaten with ginger sauce.
With a laugh, the 49-year-old says: “My cooking style is a mish-mash – it could be half-Chinese and half-Malay.”
This freewheeling attitude could explain why he eschews cookbooks, preferring a more intuitive approach towards culinary alchemy. He elaborates: “I just experiment. I know the taste I want to achieve. So, for curry, I will put in the curry spices, add some coconut milk, put in a little sugar to give it sweetness, and so on. Then I adjust the taste as I go.”
“The wonton mee was bad but it made me realise people have different palates.”
Even though Lam began cooking in earnest only a year ago, his innate understanding of ingredients hints at the early start he had in the kitchen. He says: “When I was in upper secondary school, I stayed with my brother in Singapore because my parents were in Malaysia. I started making simple things because I couldn’t possibly eat out every day.”
He does not consider himself a foodie, however. He says: “My friend and I were talking about watches and he said, ‘Every brand has something special, just like every person is unique.’
“I think this applies to food as well. I once went to a wonton mee stall which always has a long queue. I thought it was really bad, but it made me realise that everybody has different palates. Now, I try to understand why people like certain dishes instead.”