Category Archives: Interview

Behind The Apron: Carlos Montobbio (Esquina)

Aside from the upbeat music playing in the background, Executive Chef Carlos Montobbio’s team in the open kitchen of ESQUINA is in quiet concentration of their individual tasks at hand.

The 28-year old newly appointed Executive Chef from Spain shares, “During service, you are likely to be inspired. If there are too many distractions, you will lose the concentration. I think it’s very important to stay focused.”

The way Chef Carlos runs his kitchen is not surprising. The Barcelona-born chef has learned from the best, having worked in a slew of prolific restaurants alongside a number of celebrated chefs including the Roca brothers from the 3 Michelin-starred and recurring #1 on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Celler de Can Roca (Spain), and Chef Hilario Arbelaitz from 2 Michelin-starred restaurant, Zuberoa (Spain).

His style of working has certainly paid off for him. During his first overseas stint at Anti:dote bar in Fairmont, his Asian-inspired tapas menu quickly earned him the reputation for having a creative flair, as well as a finalist nomination for the Rising Chef of the Year award by WGS Awards of Excellence.

Chef Carlos sits down for a quick chat with us before his kitchen swings into action.

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How did your love for cooking start?

I started appreciating good produce since I was very young. I was very curious as well. I love to taste new dishes and ingredients and was very exposed to good produce. When I was five, I often helped my mother in the kitchen. I started cooking by myself when I was around six to seven years old, especially during celebrations at home with family and friends. But I never thought that I was going to work as a professional chef. It was more like a hobby. My passion for cooking started when I joined a culinary school when I was 16 and I started to work at the school’s restaurant. That was when I really started to love the profession. I will never forget the day I sent my first dish to a customer. It was very special after four months of training. My first dish was a turbot with lemon puree and some veggies.

Singapore Food Festival (SFF) 2015 | Behind The Apron: Malcolm Lee (Candlenut)

When you first meet Chef Malcolm Lee, the young bespectacled chef comes across as shy and unassuming. Yet, at the mention of food and specifically Peranakan cuisine, the head chef and owner of Candlenut lights up and he seems like a different person altogether. His infectious passion for food is hard to miss.

While studying at the Singapore Management University (SMU), Chef Malcolm was involved in the running of the campus café. Shortly after graduating from SMU, he landed a scholarship to pursue a diploma at At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy. Upon graduation, he started his first Peranakan restaurant Candlenut Kitchen in 2010 at Neil Road. It closed after the lease ended in 2012 and he reopened Candlenut at the Dorsett Residences in July 2013.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Chef Malcolm reveals that an omakase-style tasting menu or what he terms as “ah-ma-kasae” is brewing from his kitchen this July.

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Doing away with the a la carte menu, Chef Malcolm shares candidly, “If the menu is the same and stagnant everyday, it just means we are using common products.” Instead, it will be a full tasting menu curated by him. He says that is how grandma and mum would approach Peranakan food – selecting what is the freshest  in the market for that day to prepare a meal.

One thing that he hopes to bring back for his new tasting menu is tradition. “For example, the traditional hand-made kueh pie tee shell looks like a hat and is very light. We can’t do that when it is 80 pax. If it’s one menu for the day, I can give you the best.”

Behind The Apron: Benjamin Tan (The White Rabbit)

When it comes to ingredients, Chef Benjamin Tan readily admits that local chefs have a lot to learn from foreign chefs. “In Europe, the weather is seasonal and the culture is very different from Singapore so the chefs there tend to be more well-rounded. They can tell you which ingredients are in season and react to the changes quickly.”

Perhaps because he is well aware of that difference, Chef Benjamin places a huge importance on understanding the ingredients he uses. This has made him no less adaptable in the kitchen. The locally-trained 40 year-old helms the kitchen of one of Singapore’s popular wedding venues at The White Rabbit by The Lo & Behold Group. He began his culinary journey at the Singapore Hotel Association Training and Education Centre (SHATEC), graduating in 1996 before taking his first cook position at Au Jardin by Les Amis. After spending eight years at Au Jardin and rising up the ranks, Chef Benjamin joined the opening team at The White Rabbit as Sous Chef.

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In 2010, he joined the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West for two years as a lecturer. Chef Benjamin shares that the two years away from the kitchen provided him with the time to think about how he would like to manage the kitchen and allowed him to prepare himself mentally for a more senior position when he returned to the kitchen. He even had some time to experiment with new dishes.

Rejuvenated after two years in 2012, he returned to The White Rabbit as Head Chef with over 15 years of culinary experience. He has since led the creation of its entire menu which has a strong focus on meat and game.

Today, taking some time out after an intensive week in the kitchen is still a must for Chef Benjamin. He shares that watching silly movies helps him to laugh his worries away.

Behind The Apron: Gontran Cherrier (Tiong Bahru Bakery)

Celebrity French baker Gontran Cherrier loves and knows his breads. The best croissants, he says, are the ones that are moist in the inside.

The bread guru behind the Tiong Bahru Bakery brand was born into a family of bakers and pastry makers. He is known for his innovative, modern incorporation of flavours, while staying true to the tradition methods of French bread making. Having worked at the Michelin-starred L’Arpege and Lucas Carton as well as training apprentices and setting up production centers in Russia and Romania, this fourth-generation baker shows he is unafraid to venture into the unknown.

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The 33-year-old gamely tried sambal chilli at 10 in the morning. While admitting it was rather spicy, this resulted in a creation of sambal egg mayo, char siew slice with bits of carrots and cucumbers on top of miso rye bread, a surprisingly savoury combination. He offers a simple rule: Always pair stronger flavoured breads with stronger tasting ingredients to bring out the flavours.

For Gontran, Asia is an exciting place for a baker like himself because of the different flavours it offers. However, he confesses that he hasn’t been to Asia for a holiday. “Whenever I am in Asia, it is always for work,” he reveals. Nevertheless, he found some time during this trip to Singapore to visit the wet markets, discover new ingredients and savour our local delicacies. We hear that his sambal egg mayo with char siew concoction may be on the menu in Singapore soon.

Behind The Apron: Iron Chef Cat Cora (Ocean Restaurant, RWS)

Chef Cat Cora is quite the chilli padi. Like the small but spicy pepper, this petite American chef packs quite the punch. In 2005, she made television history on Iron Chef America as the first female Iron Chef. The accomplished restaurateur also became the first female chef to be inducted into the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2013, she opened her first restaurant in Asia, Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora at Resorts World Sentosa.

With such accomplishments under her belt, it is not surprising that Chef Cora continues to redefine stereotypes. True to her nature, Chef Cora reveals that she loves chilli as well. “People can’t believe it because I’m American but I love really spicy food. I’m always asking for extra chilli and sambal.
Bring it on!”

We chat with Chef Cora who was in town recently to promote her new menu at Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora.

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You graduated with a degree in physiology and wellness. Why did you decide to become a chef instead?

I felt it was really important to get a college degree. I really loved education and I wanted to get a college degree. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the culinary scene and the celebrity chef didn’t exist in the US. It was still very much a working class career. Besides Julia Child, there wasn’t any role model in the chef industry.

Being a chef wasn’t something that you made a career out of. So I went to college first and studied wellness which I love. It has actually been fantastic as I’ve been able to fuse the two together. For me, it has been great to be able to know about nutrition and wellness and to be able to use that in my cuisine.