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A healthier spread
100 Neo Tiew Road
Opening hours: Wed to Fri: 9.30am to 6.30pm;
Sat, Sun & Public Holidays: 8am to 6.30pm
PLANT expert Hedrick Kwan has more than just green fingers. He is a culinary horticulturist as well. By this he means that he experiments making food with his knowledge of plants.
Mr Kwan embarked on his culinary journey in 2009, when he met Chef Leandros Stagogiannis, a former chef at The Fat Duck.
"Chef Lea wanted me to grow basil flowers. I was surprised that flowers could be eaten and followed him into the kitchen to find out what he used them for," says Mr Kwan. Soon after, he became a fan of the chef's work, and together they created a little garden outside the former Fifty Three restaurant. "I tried his food and was blown away by how one used plants and other raw materials to create an adventure in food."
Mr Kwan owns Plant Visionz, a gardening business where he teaches people how to grow their own vegetables. He also conducts cooking classes at Bollywood Veggies.
Now, he is onto the next step of his culinary journey, cooking private lunches at Bollywood Veggies.
"Growing a wide range of edible plants in this garden means there is always some exciting produce that comes into season every few months," he says. "This is a great place to experience the freshest of produce."
He does six dishes over a four-course meal for a minimum of 10 people, at S$65 per person. The lunch is held in Bhanchha, Bollywood Veggies' show kitchen, and diners sit around the island stove. There is no fancy tablecloth laid out, although Mr Kwan dresses each table setting with flowers. Diners do get to watch Mr Kwan add the final touches to the food.
On the menu for a recent lunch were humus with sour spinach and tapioca chips, smoked pumpkin salad, allspice soup, tomato eggplant ganoush with tabbouleh and falafel, mixed grain olive fried rice and a deconstructed pineapple tart with gula melaka and cream jelly.
Many of the ingredients that he uses are grown in Bollywood Veggies, and the menu is suitable for vegans too. "My aim is to make vegetables not taste like vegetarian food," he says.
He makes everything from scratch, without relying on preservatives or processed foods, and throws in tips such as mixing minced beancurd with chick peas, "so that the falafel retains its shape", and using betel leaves to create the smoky flavour in his pumpkin salad.
His allspice soup tastes like bak kut teh, but is cooked using the allspice leaf, so named because it combines the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Mr Kwan's pineapple tart looks nothing like those seen during Chinese New Year. He makes the filling using fresh pineapples, and scoops it into a kueh pie tie cup.
At the end of lunch, Mr Kwan is happy to bring diners on a quick tour of Bollywood Veggies, to point out the plants and vegetables that he has used, such as the four-angled bean and sweet potato leaves for the salad.
"Food is the common denominator between plants and people. Cooking lunches like these allow me to share my plant knowledge, while diners get to eat clean," he says.
Bookings for private lunches have to be made at least three weeks in advance. To book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to basics
111 King George's Avenue
Opening hours: Tues to Sun, 10am to 10pm
THE newly opened a.e.i.o.u cafe sounds like a pre-school for toddlers to learn their first vowels, but it is not. The cafe, which will officially start operating on Sunday, is the latest to open in the emerging Jalan Besar hotspot.
Founder Dennis Lau makes sure his food is "colourful and Instagrammable", but forget about giving this joint the hipster tag. Sure, there is amazingly good coffee on the menu, but there's no Eggs Benedict, truffle fries, or ice cream and waffles.
Mr Lau - a fashion designer - teamed up with his friend and fellow designer Joanna Fong to venture into the F&B business. "But with so many new F&B places popping up, we knew we had to be different," says Mr Lau. With this in mind, the two decided to go the clean food route. Mr Lau says the food menu is based on keywords, such as light, refreshing, green, healthy, honest, and with surprise elements.
Chef at Work's director/culinary consultant Edwin Phua who has worked at 3 Hat Restaurant, Salt and Les Amis, created the menu for the cafe.
Most of the dishes tend to be light, and nearly half the menu is suitable for vegetarians. To make the dishes less heavy, Mr Phua cuts back on the cream, and uses garlic infused olive oil in place of butter. "I wouldn't declare that we serve organic food, but we serve healthier options," says Mr Lau. For example, in place of French fries, he offers healthier alternatives - made from carrots and sweet potatoes.
The Garden Salad (S$14.90) is big enough for two or three people to share. Apart from salad greens, there are beets thrown in together with edible flowers, making it a colourful dish. It comes dressed in home-made raspberry vinaigrette.
Mr Lau adds that some of the greens in the salad are grown locally. The culinary team works with a local farmer to grow sunflower sprouts, Swiss chard, red kale, red romano and red mustard. Other options include the Smoked Salmon Salad (S$16.90), pan-seared seabass with tomatoes (S$21.90) and the substantial Beef Cheek Pasta (S$24.90). The tagliatelle comes with chunky but tender beef cubes which are braised for over eight hours in balsamic vinegar reduction, giving it a slight tangy taste. "The pasta is heavier, which male diners will like," he says. The other dishes, such as the mushroom soup, made from shiitake and white button mushrooms with very little cream, are lighter, filling the tummy but not overloading it.
Unlike other cafes which take on an industrial look, a.e.i.o.u boasts one that is more eclectic. There is no vintage furniture in sight, instead, they are all upcycled pieces. "I'm like a karang guni man, collecting old pieces," he says. Old metal gates that have been thrown away, metal pipes, unwanted machinery parts are turned into tables and lamps. The pieces are for sale too.
Even the drinking glasses are upcycled ones, made from old vodka bottles. "The upcycled furniture is in line with our brand philosophy to live simple, and to go back to the basics, which also applies to our food menu," he says.
And as for the name a.e.i.o.u, Mr Lau says, "when I think back about my childhood, the vowels come to mind".
Quality, not quantity, in mind
Own My Grain
Blk 462 Crawford Lane, #02-31
Opening hours: Mon to Sat, 10 to 6pm; Sundays by appointment only, call 6341 7900
THE next time you head to Crawford Lane for Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, do take time to visit Own My Grain, a little shop on the second floor of an HDB block which carries produce and snacks from Taiwan.
The store is started by married couple Roger Lim and Michelle Tan, who went on holiday to Taiwan and found themselves starting a new business. Mr Lim is a director of an oil and gas company, while Ms Tan is a medical technologist. "I have been thinking of doing something else with my life for a while, and an opportunity dealing with agriculture came up, and I knew it was right for me," says Mr Lim.
On one of their trips to Taipei a few years ago, the couple met an elderly couple running an eatery serving home-cooked food, who introduced them to some local farmers. "It was fascinating to meet these farmers, who are professionals, who gave up their day jobs to go into farming full-time," says Mr Lim.
What also impressed him was that these farmers were fully dedicated to their job, taking pains to ensure that the soil and water they use for crops is of good quality. "For these farmers, food safety is top priority," says Mr Lim. "We work with farmers/producers who grow their food products in an environmentally sustainable manner."
He adds that as the farmers use eco-friendly farming methods and no preservatives are added to the end products, their food is crafted with love and utmost attention to detail, produced with quality and not quantity in mind.
Some of the items that Own My Grain carries include Yuzu Honey (S$29.90) which has a slight citron flavour. The Yuzu Honey is produced by An An Organic Farm in Yilan. Farmer Chen Jing An's bees make good use of his 30-year-old grapefruit tree garden to produce the fragrant honey.
"Despite the high cost of manpower and reduction in production, Mr Chen insists on using natural ripening and harvesting methods to retain the honey mellow and enzymes," says Mr Lim.
There is also Tartary Buckwheat Tea (S$24.90) which contains a variety of amino acids and Rutin, otherwise known as vitamin P, which is believed to have antioxidant properties and helps to reduce cholesterol levels.
"The tea is grown by Su Rong Chan, a farmer who uses an environmental friendly approach to grow and harvest the buckwheat," says Mr Lim. The buckwheat is baked at low temperatures to make it into buckwheat tea, while keeping the nutrients and aroma of the buckwheat intact.
Mr Lim says that as these farmers produce only small quantities of items, it took some convincing for them to agree to let him distribute the products in Singapore. "However, after regular visits to the farms to see how they work, they were convinced that I'm serious about their produce," says Mr Lim. "We were no longer seen as mere tourists visiting their farms."
Having seen how the farmers produce their goods especially without the use of pesticides, Mr Lim knows full well that their methods of farming and production are safe, but he still decided to get their products tested for food safety. "By going straight to the source, I know where the produce comes from," he says. "I wanted to be really sure that all the food is safe, and it is an assurance to Own My Grain's customers as well.
The front half of Own My Grain is the retail space, with a small library carrying books on Taiwanese food and farming practices. "We welcome anyone who is interested to come in and read," says Mr Lim.
At the back is a kitchen, where Mr Lim will serve up the buckwheat tea, as well as the black bean tea which he sells. Customers can also get to sample the buckwheat soba which they can buy in its dried form for S$17.90.
Mr Lim says, "Taiwanese food is not only about braised pork rice, oyster omelette and pineapple cake, there are also many traditional delectable foods produced by the local farmers in areas of Yilan, Changhua, Taitung, and Tainan."
We Are Singavore
DO you know where your food comes from? Chances are - not from here.
That's why a group of university students are campaigning for more Singaporeans to support local producers, for the simple reason that there are more benefits to eating local.
"On an individual level, we can enjoy fresher food due to the reduced distance from farm to fork," says Jamie Foo. "There is also greater traceability of food as we can know the practices of local farmers. This helps us become more active consumers who make informed decisions about what we eat."
On a societal level, it builds community when people grow food together, whether in community gardens or small farming initiatives. Agricultural know-how is shared between beginners and experts, so expertise from older generations does not get lost.
"On a national level, we should learn how to be less dependent on imports, reducing our carbon footprint along the way. Besides, if Singaporeans don't support homegrown produce - who will?" Ms Foo asks.
Ms Foo, together with fellow students Nor'Huda Binti Mohamed Abidin, Louise Jane Cher and Matthias Ho, form We Are Singavore. They are all final year students at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University.
The group run the We Are Singavore website, sharing stories about the local farming community, including a behind-the-scenes look at life on a farm. Their content is targeted mostly at young adults from 21 to 30, "as we sense a knowledge gap about agricultural practices between farmers and the younger generation", says Ms Foo. The website also has a list of local farms which people can visit.
In February, they will be holding Singavore Month, a month-long celebration of local produce. They will be collaborating with nine F&B outlets which are supporting local produce in their own ways, such as by sourcing from local farms, or having their own herb gardens. Some of the nine include Plonk, afterglow, East8 and Portico.
Each eatery will create a new Singavorean dish that uses local produce. For example, The Tuckshop is ordering barramundi from local fish farm Kuhlbarra.
"Young adults have a habit of eating out, which we are leveraging by positioning these F&Bs as Singavorean alternatives," says Ms Foo. "We hope this dispels the notion that supporting local is difficult and commitment-heavy, as there are ways to support even if one does not cook."
During Singavore Month, the public can also pledge to support local producers, and get discounts at the nine eateries. The group hopes to achieve 1,500 pledges.
Besides becoming more educated on local farming, the group hopes that more people will come to appreciate the taste and quality of local produce and support it. They did a survey on dining habits and found that while 74 per cent of respondents support local, only 40 per cent have acted on their intention. "We hope this figure will increase to 60 per cent by the time our campaign ends in April," says Ms Foo.