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“If I asked her about a flower on the street, she would look it up in all the botany books and we would learn about it together. She opened my eyes to a lot of things.” ~ Chef Hashida.

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“She instilled in me a strong work ethic. She never once said to quit when things got too hard, but instead, she showed that it takes patience, hard work and perseverance to achieve anything in life, in any field of work.” ~ Chef Koh.

Top chefs' recipes for Mother's Day

Singapore’s top chefs pay tribute to the first love of their lives with heartwarming dishes
May 8, 2020 5:50 AM

''EVEN BAD MEN love their Mommas,'' growls Russell Crowe's outlaw character Ben Wade in the movie 3:10 to Yuma, when he pushes a guy off a cliff for cursing his own mother.

While wives and girlfriends may occasionally sigh, there's no denying the bond between mothers and sons, whatever their occupation. Here, though, we look at mothers and their chef offspring, namely some of Singapore's top talents who credit them for shaping their paths in life. And what better way to pay tribute to their First Lady but to ask these Mummy's boys - and one Mummy's girl - to share a comforting recipe that they would make and which the homebound rest of us can easily replicate for our own families this Mother's Day weekend.

JULIEN ROYER

By day he is the chef-owner of the three Michelin-starred restaurant Odette, commanding a large team turning out next-level fine dining French cuisine. But at heart, he's a country boy with fond memories of his mother Claudine's pâté de pommes de terre (a hearty savoury potato pie), braised rabbit in mustard and stuffed cabbage, among other rustic favourites he enjoyed on the family farm in Cantal, Auvergne, in central France.

''There's nothing like her cooking,'' says Chef Royer. ''I wish I knew half of what my Mum knows. She's also a fantastic baker and she even makes her own cheese and honey.''

He reckons he inherited his love for the land from her.

''My mum is one of the kindest souls. She always had a special affinity for nature and she showed us the importance of respecting it. I have fond memories of being out on the farm, helping her with seeding, gardening and feeding our animals. She's taught me so much about life, even now.''

She was always supportive of his decision to be a chef, even though ''it saddens her that I'm far away from home'' but she is still ''my biggest cheerleader today''.

She clearly looks forward to seeing him at least once every year, when he makes a point to visit home. ''After a long 13-hour flight, train ride and drive, the excitement of eating my Mum's cooking again is indescribable.'' And when he's in Singapore, he calls home at least once a week. ''Sometimes, she surprises me by calling to ask me questions about cooking. It always makes me laugh as I remind her she knows much more than I do!'' As a child on Mother's Day, he taught himself to make choux à la crème (French cream puffs) and surprised her with it. Now, he calls and sends her flowers. ''She loves all kinds of flowers!''

His chosen Mother's Day recipe is his mother's Le Pâté De Pommes De Terre, a hearty pie of sliced French potatoes cooked in cream, layered with pancetta and enveloped in puff pastry. ''It's a traditional, rustic speciality from the Massif Central of France. My Mum made this all the time when I was a child and it brings back many fond memories of my childhood with her.''

Recipe

Le Pâté De Pommes De Terre

INGREDIENTS
(Serves 8)
Potatoes - 1.5kg (Belle de
Fontenay or Charlotte)
Garlic - 3 cloves
Fresh thyme - 50g
Cream - 1.2 litre
Pancetta - 200g, sliced
Tarragon leaves - 100g
Puff pastry - 2 discs,
25cm diameter
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
(1) Peel and slice potatoes with Japanese mandoline. Rinse in water and pat dry. (2) Peel garlic. (3) Place potatoes in a pot with peeled garlic and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Add cream and cook slowly over low heat until potatoes begin to cook, around 15 mins. (4) Strain. Reduce cooking liquid by half over heat. (5) Mould the cooked potatoes into an 18cm stainless steel ring, alternate with layers of pancetta and tarragon. Refrigerate to cool. (6) Place the first layer of puff pastry on a lined baking tray. Place the layered potatoes on it. Cover with the second layer of pastry and make a small chimney by cutting a small circle of pastry in the middle and insert a little funnel made of aluminium foil for steam to escape. (7) Brush the pastry all over with egg wash twice. Bake for 5 mins at 200°C followed by another 15 mins at 180°C (Note: Tray must be very hot). (8) Leave pâté to rest for 10 min before serving. Serve with mesclun salad and fresh herbs tossed in red wine vinaigrette.


KENJIRO 'HATCH' HASHIDA

When machismo seems to describe Kenjiro 'Hatch' Hashida's meticulously groomed 'bad boy' visage, for him to freely admit he's a Mummy's boy lends a different dimension to the sushi chef of his eponymous Hashida restaurant.

Also an artist, Chef Hashida credits his late mother Mitsuko for influencing his interest in the creative arts.

''She graduated from Bunka Fukusou (Fashion College) whose students included Kenzo Takada, Yoji Yamamoto and Chisato Tsumori. We would even watch fashion news on TV once a week,'' he recalls. ''She was always very interested in Japanese culture and wanted me to learn about it too. For example, she would make matcha (green tea) for herself and when I said it was interesting, she immediately wanted to teach me all about the tea ceremony and the correct way of making the tea.''

It was the same for just about anything else, he adds. ''If I asked her about a flower on the street, she would look it up in all the botany books and we would learn about it together. She opened my eyes to a lot of things.''

That extended to food as well. Before coming to Singapore, Chef Hashida was working with his father at their family's sushi shop, so ''whenever I was making new creations or trying out different recipes, she was always the first to taste it and give me her honest opinion. The answer wasn't always good!''

Whenever he made the staff meal at their Tokyo restaurant, she would taste it every time. ''But sometimes she just told me what she wanted to eat!''

He fondly remembers his favourite dish she would make for him when he was young - a simple simmered fried tofu with chilli and sweet soy sauce. For Mother's Day, he suggests a comforting udon noodle dish that would make a fun cooking session for mother and son, or daughter. It requires rolling and cutting your own udon noodles, and making a cured egg yolk confit by simply burying it in miso to infuse it with a mellow saltiness to flavour the mild udon. Serve it in an instant dashi broth and it's a complete simple meal to make at home.

Recipe

Homemade Udon Noodles with Miso Confit Egg Yolk

INGREDIENTS
For Udon
Cake flour - 300g
Tapioca starch - 20g
Water - 145ml
Salt - 16g
Extra flour for rolling dough

Egg Confit

Fresh egg yolks
Miso paste - 300g
Sake or water - 30ml
Cheesecloth or coffee filter                                                                                                                 

Soup and garnish

Dashi broth
Wakame seaweed
Tomato
Cheese

DIRECTIONS
Udon
(1) Mix cake flour and tapioca starch. Dissolve salt in water. (2) Add water to flour mixture in three batches and knead into a ball. (3) Wrap and chill for 2 hours. (4) Roll out the dough on a flour-dusted work surface. Dust the dough surface with flour and fold in half. Trim the other three edges to make them straight. (5) Cut the dough into thin strips, dusting with flour so they don't stick. (6) To cook, boil in plenty of water in a large pot for 10 minutes.

Egg yolk confit
(1) Use very fresh egg yolks. (2) Mix the miso with the sake or water. (3) In a Tupperware container, layer half the miso mixture on the bottom, cover with cheesecloth and make little hollows to place the egg yolks in. Cover the yolks with another layer of cheesecloth followed by the remaining miso. Store in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Up to 5 days if you like it saltier.

TO SERVE
Arrange the freshly boiled udon noodles in a bowl, top with the confit egg yolk and ladle over the hot dashi broth. Garnish with wakame or tomato and cheese.


MALCOLM LEE

Like most kids his age, Malcolm Lee lived in a family where both parents worked, but was a lot luckier in the sense that his mother Julie Koh always made sure the family was wellfed with delicious home-cooked meals.

''She really fed me a lot - I had lots of food and toys,'' says the chef-owner of the one Michelin-starred Candlenut restaurant, which is based on the Peranakan cooking that he grew up with. ''She was loving and kind, always cooking and taking care of us. She would prepare everything herself - chicken curry, beef rendang, satay ayam, pong tauhu soup, ayam buah keluak, oxtail stew, eggs tempra - and of course sambal belacan, pineapple tarts and more.''

Although a working mother, she excelled in organising her family's meals for the day. ''She would cook soups or stewed dishes in the morning before heading to work. When she got home, she would cook rice, reheat the stews or soups and stir fry some vegetables, steam fish or even cook up an egg dish.''

She learned cooking from her own mother, and she was always the one preparing food for the whole family. ''I always marvel at my Mum's generosity in preparing meals for everyone - she really spares no effort, putting in so much time from the many late nights and early mornings, using the best ingredients with no shortcuts just so everyone can have a great meal. It takes days to prepare a meal but just one hour to polish it off. She just wanted people to be happy. Even for simple dishes like stirfried vegetables, she insisted on waiting till everyone was seated before she would start cooking, so they could enjoy it hot and fresh.
And she is the single biggest influence in my decision to be a chef.''

Since he plunged straight into opening his own restaurant Candlenut Kitchen in Neil Road at the age of 24, it was his mother - who is still a private chef - who helped him through the tough first years. ''She did everything she could to help, from prepping garlic, shallots and buah keluak, doing the marketing and putting in such long hours.''
Like the devoted mother she is, she has made sacrifices for her son.

''She had to work really hard to support me financially through school all the way to me running Candlenut. When we were operating at Neil Road and the business wasn't doing too well, we showered and slept at the restaurant and only went home on weekends when we were closed.''

If there was any lesson he learned from her, it would be ''to work hard, be sincere, generous and have a heart for people.''

His mother still works as a private chef and he lives at home, although he is planning to get married soon. But he's happy that both women in his life get along brilliantly with each other. Mother's Day has always been about having dinner together as a family and Covid-19 doesn't seem to be dampening his plans to ''just cook at home and enjoy some wine and dessert together.''

One dish he might be cooking with his Mum would be sambal petai (stink beans) prawns. ''When I was young I hated petai because of the smell, but my Mum's way of cooking it is really fragrant, tasty and not stinky at all. We both love petai and she likes prawns so this is a slightly different take with stir-fried tiger prawns and ikan bilis sambal. Absolutely delicious with rice.'' 

Sambal Petai Prawns

INGREDIENTS
Sambal Belacan
Belacan - 30g
Garlic - 3 pcs, peeled
Shallots - 3 pcs, peeled
Red Chilli - 6 pcs
Red Chilli Padi - 6 pcs
Sugar - 1 tsp
Sambal Petai Prawns
Large prawns - 250g,
deshelled (except head and
tail) and deveined
Tamarind pulp - 50g
Water - 125ml
Petai beans - 100g
Sambal belacan - 1 tbsp
Sugar - 1tbsp
Salt - ¼ tsp
Garnish
Red chilli - 1 (sliced)
Fried Shallots
Fried Anchovies
Coriander

DIRECTIONS

Sambal Belacan
(1) Dry toast the belacan, garlic and shallots in a pan till fragrant. (2) Pound the toasted ingredients together with the chillies and sugar until fine. Set aside.

Sambal Petai Prawns
(1) To prepare tamarind water, mix pulp with the water and strain. (2) Heat oil in a hot pan, pan fry the prawns till half cooked, add in the sambal belacan and petai beans and stir fry for half a minute. Add in the tamarind water, salt and sugar, and cook further till prawns are cooked. (3) Garnish with sliced red chilli, fried shallots, anchovies and coriander.


CHERYL KOH

Never mind the mother's boys, Cheryl Koh is a Mummy's Girl through and through. Even though she took the somewhat unorthodox path of becoming a pastry chef - and is now head of dessert at the three Michelin-starred Les Amis, her mother Helen Lee has been behind her all the way.

Also a working mother, ''My Mum worked hard to give our family the best life possible,'' says Chef Koh. ''I grew up with the confidence and assurance that I could pursue anything, and do anything that I wanted.''

In fact, she had almost free rein on the way she wanted her life to be. ''I never had a curfew. I was never told to join or not join any activities growing up.''

Although she doesn't cook - ''My Dad does'' - her mother is a strong supporter of the F&B industry and makes sure the family is well fed, says Chef Koh.

''She instilled in me a strong work ethic. She never once said to quit when things got too hard, but instead, she showed that it takes patience, hard work and perseverance to achieve anything in life, in any field of work.''

Since the family still lives together, the Covid-19 pandemic hasn't crushed any Mother's Day plans. In fact, with Les Amis closed during the Circuit Breaker period and her pastry outlet Tarte was temporarily shut down, ''I've been able to have dinner with my Mum and the family every day, something I haven't done in a long time.''

Although her mum tends to pick fruit over dessert these days, she has a soft spot for classics such as bread and butter pudding, banana splits, butter pound cake and of course, apple pie, made according to her daughter's recipe.

''The crust is a pie dough made with brown sugar and some lemon zest, filled with diced fresh apples tossed in a bit of cinnamon and sugar. It's comfort food, reminds me of home and family, and a dessert my Mum would enjoy.'' And with cakes a pretty hard commodity to find right now, the next best thing is to just make your own.

Recipe

Apple Pie

INGREDIENTS

Dough
Plain Flour - 250g
Salted Butter - 150g
Caster Sugar - 100g
Soft brown sugar - 25g
Egg - 1 pc
Lemon zest - 1 pc

Apple Filling
Apples - 4 medium
(Golden Delicious, Royal
Gala, Granny Smith or a mix)
Caster sugar - 50g
Cinnamon powder - 1 pinch
Lemon juice - 1pc

DIRECTIONS
(1) Mix all dry ingredients and grated lemon zest in a bowl. (2) Cut butter into small cubes and rub into dry ingredients using fingertips. (3) Add in the egg and combine to form a dough. (4) Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours. (5) Peel and cut apples into 1cm cubes or slices. (6) Toss sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon powder into the apples, leave in a bowl for 2-3 hours. (7) To assemble and bake: roll out two thirds of the dough to line a pie dish or cake ring. (8) Remove all liquid from the macerated apples, and pour the apples into the lined pie dish. (9) Roll out the remaining one third of the dough, cut into strips and lay the strips on top of the apples. (10) Brush a light layer of egg wash over the top and sprinkle with sliced almonds round the rim. (11) Bake in oven at 170°C for 40-50 minutes until crust is golden brown. (12) Leave to cool completely at room temperature. Best eaten the following day. Serve at room temperature or warmed up, with cream, custard or ice cream.