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DAMIAN D'Silva is a big guy but he isn't the easiest person to find when you want a taste of the heritage Peranakan-Eurasian cuisine he built his reputation - and some say notoriety - on.
There has never been any question that any meal cooked by Chef D'Silva would not be cooked the way his grandfather taught him decades ago, in all its labour-intensive glory - the only uncertainty was where you could eat it. In the past 10 years or so, Chef D'Silva has gone through multiple dining concepts from hawker stall to gastrobar to his short-lived stint at hipster food court Timbre, only to find a troubling mismatch between his stubbornly-held cooking ideals and the realities of running a viable and profitable business.
But, the good news is, he will always come back. And yes, the rebel chef is all set for his latest venture aptly called Folklore, in the newly-opened Destination Singapore Beach Road, managed by the Park Hotel group. Free from the constraints of having to juggle cooking and his accounts, Chef D'Silva can focus on what he does best - sambal buah keluak, singgang, hati babi bungkus and myriad other favourites that require hours of painstaking pounding, frying and simmering.
It's all par for the course for Chef D'Silva, whose best-selling dish in Timbre was his nasi lemak, featuring triple steamed coconut rice that was good enough to eat on its own. Unfortunately, he was slaving over the stove to prepare food that few who patronised the food court were willing to pay for. And for those who were, Timbre's interminable heat and uncomfortable surroundings kept them away.
He's well aware that a cuisine like his is a hard-sell. "This is something that will always plague a restaurateur who offers local cuisine. It's always a challenge to convince the customer who does not see the value, not in just the quality of ingredients used, but the time and effort that is put into executing the dishes. My thoughts have always been to persevere and offer a meal that will be memorable. I also believe that in my past collaborations, marketing was not done intelligently, and hopefully, we get it right this time. Of course, providing the right dining experience helps."
That he hopes to do at the new hotel restaurant, and dispel any preconceptions about hotel food quality because he will be helming the kitchen personally, with 100 per cent control over the menu.
"The main focus is on Singapore heritage food. It's always been my objective to showcase dishes from all the different ethnic groups that have been so influential in Singapore's culinary heritage. I want customers to feel at home when they dine at the restaurant, to bring back the lost feel of communal eating."
That he's now in a formal hotel kitchen environment also means he has the chance to pass on his skills to younger chefs. "The old school methods are difficult to pass on and execute in a commercial kitchen, but I will be using a combination of both, like a granite grinder that will lessen the workload. It will give the younger chefs not just a better understanding but also a better perspective of utensils used for heritage cuisine."
It's taken him a while to get back into action after Timbre but he wasn't exactly taking a break. " I had numerous phone calls and offers to start a new restaurant but I wanted to make sure that this time, I get it right."
His fans probably hope so too.
Folklore, Destination Singapore Beach Road, 700 Beach Road, Level 2. Tel: 6679 2900.
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