As with many young cooks in Singapore, it was Western cooking that I aspired to during my training. I love local food. I love hawker food. But I never thought that I’d be championing Singaporean cuisine at Labyrinth.
During the early years, the restaurant was very much about molecular gastronomy. We did a lot of deconstruction, such as with our signature chilli crab dish that’s presented like a seaside scene, with a chilli crab ice cream “seashell” and mantou (deep- fried bun) “sand”. I didn’t set out to do Singaporean cuisine – I was just working with flavours close to my heart.
“To define a new expression of Singaporean cuisine, the roots… would have to be local”
Then, one day, my friend and food writer David Yip gave me a bottle of homemade oyster sauce. It was nothing like the bottled stuff, and I was so intrigued that I got his permission to recreate his recipe at Labyrinth. I started learning about how things such as soya sauce and vinegars were made traditionally, and stumbled onto the local produce scene.
Local mussels, flower crabs, quails – they are all right on a par with imported produce. That’s when I realised that if I wanted to define a new expression of Singaporean cuisine, the roots of that would have to be local.
Now, Labyrinth is produce-forward, with 80% of our ingredients sourced locally. I want to showcase the quality and uniqueness of local produce together with Singapore’s culinary history.
Singapore’s presence in the Michelin Guide and on the World’s 50 Best awards lists has also helped to demonstrate that Singaporean food is of international standards. Foreign diners currently make up around two-thirds of Labyrinth’s guests.
I believe that we need to go deeper into Singaporean cuisine. Japanese chefs are famous for making an art form of doing just one dish their whole lives – our hawkers have done the same. Why not make Singapore known for that as well?
44: Number of stars earned by restaurants in the Michelin Guide Singapore 2019
I think that it is also time for Singaporeans to stop thinking that our dishes need to be “elevated” with ingredients from other cuisines. For instance, the local mee kia (skinny egg noodles) is no less labour-intensive than capellini!
But there is some encouraging progress. There’s an increasing number of fine-dining chefs striking out to start hawker stalls and small eateries to cook food that’s personal to them.
The trend in private dining – much of it which is centred around Singaporean cuisine – has also sparked a much greater interest in our heritage.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
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This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine